CHICAGO - To find out what America’s students think about the energy future of America, the National Foundation for Energy Education (NFEE) recently conducted the National Student Energy Survey and discovered that most of the 4,611 participating middle and high school students indicated strong support for renewable energy sources. But while the survey shows that many students are optimistic about America’s energy future, some of that optimism comes from a lack of awareness of the true facts, according to the survey’s organizer.

Students from 85 schools in 22 states participated in the survey from late February through mid-March. The survey was developed and organized by the NFEE, and sponsored in the Chicagoland area by the Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) of Chicago.

“If we are going to meet the complex energy challenges of the future, we need to start the education process with today’s young people,” said Stephen Lamb, executive director of MCA of Chicago. “The first step is to find out how much students currently know about energy.”

In late 2009, MCA of Chicago teamed up with Jerry Katz, president of the NFEE, to offer energy-related Student Leadership Training Workshops on energy to Chicago-area high school students. Because member contractors work with the mechanical systems of today’s energy-efficient buildings, the association said it takes a special interest in America’s current and future energy needs.


“It is good that students are optimistic about renewable energy - but when this optimism stems from a lack of knowledge, something must be done,” said survey organizer Katz, who is known as “Mr. Energy” to students who have attended his many classroom presentations. “Many of the survey participants were not aware of the true status of renewable energy in America today, and we gave them the facts so they can help to correct America’s energy problems in the years to come.”

Katz added, “The 1973 oil embargo took place nearly 37 years ago, yet many Americans still remain uneducated about energy. With multiple energy challenges and choices ahead, it is essential for all Americans to quadruple their knowledge of energy over the next 10 years. It should be a national goal with many supporting activities and tens of thousands of volunteers teaching about energy and energy-related areas.”

According to Katz, the survey and the training workshops are all part of the Great American Energy Debate, a 10-year nationwide program created by the NFEE. “Our ultimate goal is to educate America’s future decision-makers about the many complex energy issues facing our country,” said Katz, who has 30 years of experience in the energy education field and has trained more than 18,000 teachers.

“The survey will make kids and adults start thinking about what our country’s real energy problems are, and not just about the issue of the day. The Great Energy Debate is the vehicle that gives our students the ability to start analyzing these issues so they can come up with real solutions. They will go beyond just repeating back what someone else has told them. This is how we’ll make the real breakthroughs we need to tackle our current and future energy needs,” said Daniel Bulley, LEED AP, senior vice president of MCA and executive director of Green Construction Institute.


When asked how energy-educated the students considered themselves to be, on a scale of 0 to a high score of 10, 64 percent of students selected values above the average level of 5, with an overall figure at 5.9. Here are other findings from the survey:

The Environment:

• Almost two-thirds, 66 percent, indicated concern about climate change.

• When asked how well the energy industry protects the environment, student opinion revealed a near-even split: 36 percent said they felt industry is doing a good job, while 39 percent felt the industry was doing a poor job.

Power Generation:

• Students were evenly divided in their opinions on nuclear plants as an energy source. Thirty-seven percent supported - and the same percentage opposed - nuclear energy for new power generation during the next 20 years.

• When asked what energy sources should generate the nation’s power during the next twenty years, with a value of 10 being very supportive, nuclear received a score of 4.9, coal rated at 3.8, and wind and solar both came in at 7.5

• Students overestimated the amount of energy used to generate the nation’s electricity. As a block, students guessed that 60 percent of total U.S. energy use is currently being used for power generation. The real value is 40 percent.

Oil and Gas:

• Students correctly estimated that 60 percent of the nation’s petroleum is supplied by imports.

• Students predicted that in 20 years, 49 percent of the nation’s vehicles will run on a fuel other than gasoline.

• Support for development of oil and gas from offshore and in Alaska jumped from 4.9 to 6.2, on a scale of 0 to 10, when students were given the option of having production royalties earmarked for conservation and renewable energy programs.

Renewable Energy:

• Students estimated that on average, 45 percent of the nation’s energy is being supplied by renewable sources. Adults taking the survey set their estimate, on average, at 14 percent. The correct value is 8 percent.

• Students predicted that by 2030, 62 percent of the total energy demand would be supplied by renewable sources.

• When it came to a willingness to invest in conservation and renewable energy, many students said yes, if the payback period was less than nine years. Adults said seven years.

“Most students believed that a little less than half of the nation’s energy is being supplied by renewable sources,” Katz said. “In fact, the actual figure is less than 10 percent. Students also predicted that in 20 years, 62 percent of America’s energy would come from renewable sources. Such a huge increase would be highly improbable. Now that these students know the truth of the matter, we hope they will want to have more input into America’s energy future.”

Lamb believes that this increased awareness of energy might encourage more students to enter the construction industry. “If these students want to make a difference in America’s energy usage,” he said, “they would find many inroads into that future by learning about sustainable technology and working on green buildings.”

Katz noted that because of the Student Leadership Training Workshops and the national survey, many students now realize that planning America’s energy future is more complex than they thought. “We encourage these students to share what they have learned with their friends and family,” he said. “The more people we can educate, the more reason we will all have to be optimistic about the future.”

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Publication date:07/05/2010