On the morning of April 17 at Centre County PAWS, the animal shelter in College Township, light streamed through the windows as the two students went about their business, cleaning up litter boxes and entertaining the furry residents of the facility.
But, in their volunteer work, they’re doing more than taking care of the animals. For Evan Plumridge, Jacob Mann and the Penn State Student Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, the organization they represent, it’s a partnership they hope will help the facility save money on energy costs, while helping the students grow as young engineers.
The student team is drawing up an energy efficiency proposal for PAWS as part of the Green Energy Challenge, an annual competition that tasks NECA student chapters to design real-world energy solutions for a facility in their community. The proposal for the challenge, which is sponsored by NECA and ELECTRI International, is due on May 1.
Penn State’s team chose PAWS for this year’s competition, and has sent a couple of student volunteers on Mondays to help out. Rachel Hennessey, the student chapter president, said the team is proposing a photovoltaic solar array and a lighting retrofit for the facility, upgrades that could save PAWS up to 30 to 40 percent on its energy bill, according to experts.
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Widespread switching to higher efficiency LED lighting could save the country more than $30 billion at today’s electricity prices, the U.S. Department of Energy reported. One Department of Energy-supported study of 56 Florida homes found a 29 percent savings over pre-retrofit lighting when higher efficiency bulbs were installed.
When coupled with the solar panels, Hennessey thinks the upgrades could help funnel more money to supplies for the facility’s constituents, the pets themselves.
“Our vice president even adopted two cats from PAWS,” Hennessey said, referring to Mann.
The top three proposals earn the teams a trip to Seattle, the site of the 2017 NECA Convention and the final judging of the Green Energy Challenge. Penn State’s team worked with Park Forest Middle School last year, providing an energy analysis to help the school cut down costs and improve efficiency. While the team didn’t place, Hennessey said the experience, as it does each year, helped the team take their academic experience into designing real-world solutions.
With a win at this year’s competition, she added, the proposal becomes reality, with the solar panels being donated and the lighting retrofit being funded by NECA.
“We get mentors who are real electrical contractors to help us write this proposal,” she said. “It helps spread energy awareness and to realize by changing small things in a building, you can make huge changes to your electric bill for a more sustainable environment.”