NIU Remote Lab To Help High Schools Teach Energy Efficiency

Jul 4, 2019

A team at Northern Illinois University has created a remote lab for high school students to learn about energy efficiency.

The lab looks like a toy house with miniature appliances, like a model washing machine or an air conditioner made out of computer cooling fans. Students can turn these appliances on and off via the internet, and get various readings. These include how much power the appliances are using and the difference in temperature if the house is using a ceiling fan or air conditioner. 

Associate Professor Kevin Martin says experiments with the lab can teach students about energy efficiency.

“Maybe by switching off to just the ceiling fan in say, the spring and the fall, or even in the evening, you may be able, even during the summer, you still may feel as cool or cool enough using just the ceiling fan instead of an air conditioner, which takes a lot more power,” he said.

Martin has also wired up different types of blinds with temperature sensors and heat lamps, and a mini water heater with a thermal blanket.  He says they demonstrate energy efficiency, and impart lessons students can pass along to their parents. By making the lab internet-based, Martin hopes schools throughout Northern Illinois can use it without having to build their own.

Power companies say that if people stagger their electricity use, the companies don’t have to operate expensive peaker plants when everyone does something power-intensive, like running a load of laundry.