Trip energizes T3 Alliance students to make a difference at home and across the country

Three students traveled to Boise, Idaho, earlier this month for a gathering of young minds that could shape not only their futures but the future of Wrangell and beyond.

Members of the Teaching Through Technology Alliance, better known as the T3 Alliance, attended the Energy Summit at Boise State University Nov. 3 - 7, and were tasked with finding an energy-related problem and then working together to come up with innovative solutions.

Senior Nikolai Bardin-Siekawitch and juniors Sean McDonald and Spencer Petticrew joined T3 students from other parts of Alaska and Hawaii to continue learning about electrical grids and power delivery systems. The work began earlier in the year when the students gathered in Fairbanks and in Hawaii as part of the Upward Bound program during the summer.

All the tours, discussions and learning they did earlier were useful at the Boise Energy Summit and has helped them define a project that students from both Alaska and Hawaii work on together.

"To sum it all up, we try to fix issues that we're facing with our electrical grids with generation and efficiency and stuff, but we used problem-based learning," Petticrew said. "We kind of collectively came up with a new project for the next school year. It was, 'How might we integrate efficient energy solutions and concepts to help/motivate our communities.' That's more of our overarching goal."

Bardin-Siekawitch and McDonald will be involved with researching issues revolving around thermal efficiency of housing in different climates, energy efficiency in general, and "there's another person that's interested in something that's called vampire loads," Bardin-Siekawitch said, pointing out a TV that was turned off in the Wrangell High School commons. "Like that TV. It's turned off but it's basically taking power because it's waiting to be turned on."

Teacher Heather Howe encouraged the team to apply for the project. She said their research so far has been limited to guidance from adults in the T3 club, but she believes they will begin to reach out to experts in Wrangell as they delve deeper into local energy consumption.

"I find that the students that have been very involved in T3 Alliance bring a growth mindset approach to their schoolwork as well," Howe said. "They accept challenges and see them as growing opportunities. I have caught them on occasion saying, 'We don't know how to do that ... yet!'"

At the summit, students learned practical application skills to aid in their innovation efforts. It also helped them gain a better understanding of electrical grids.

"It was ... like a workshop in that they taught us skills like soldering and how circuit boards work and electric distribution," McDonald said. "We also got a couple tours from Micron (Technology) and how energy consumption works. A couple of guys from Idaho Power taught us how electricity worked in general, so it was like a learning opportunity but also an opportunity to move forward with future projects."

As McDonald and Bardin-Siekawitch and their teammates in Hawaii and Alaska work to gather as much information as they can about energy efficiency and ways that end users can reduce consumption, Petticrew and his teammates will work on educating the public and coming up with new devices that can help save energy where possible.

"We can also physically design new systems that we want to test or put in place," Petticrew said. "(Our team is) kind of like the hands-on people of the group. Education is probably like 50% of our overall structure, then the other 50% is actually moving forward, developing."

The team admits it's hard to improve on items like smart plugs, which keep devices from drawing power even in the off mode, but they will be looking at other innovations like how to keep homes from losing heat or cool air. What solutions work in Hawaii won't necessarily be useful in Wrangell, and what works in Wrangell might not work as well in Fairbanks.

"What we aim to do is establish a ... median solution that could apply to multiple communities because most of them are rural," Petticrew said, adding that research and development would happen on a case-by-case basis.

"So far, we've been targeting microgrid communities, which are small (electrical) grids detached from the larger grid, so we've been doing research into those," Bardin- Siekawitch said. "But there's no question (this work) could apply to everywhere else."

The research team hopes to complete their work by the end of the year or sometime in January. The T3 Alliance members are hoping to meet in person again like the Boise conference to discuss their project and work on next steps.

"Our end goal is to present our projects at the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference in May," Bardin-Siekawitch said.

Even though the team is acting locally, their ambitions are more far-reaching than Wrangell.

"Our end goal, of course, is to take the world by storm," Petticrew said.


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