Cordova high schoolers collaborate with other students on energy improvement project

Recently, high school students from Bethel, Sitka, Wrangell, Seward and Cordova collaborated on a project to improve the energy efficiency of an adventure lodge and historic facilities heating system here in town.

The program is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Teaching Through Technology (T3) Alliance, which is a STEM education network.

Among the findings from the young minds were that heating pumps could save up to $34,244 per year, insulation improvements can be made to improve energy efficiency, and windows are consistently about 20 degrees cooler than walls.

“(Orca Lodge) was opened back in 1993, it is evolving and will always be a project. There is innovation and new minds looking at an old project,” said Orca Adventure Lodge Manager Steve Ranney. “Now I am back to using diesel, where I was using wood. Now I am looking to the next step on what can power this facility.”

The students used lots of different methods to draw their conclusions, including forward-looking infrared cameras to locate “leaking” hot spots and cold spots. Students also created a 3D model of the Orca Lodge. In the slideshow presentation created by the students participating in the project, it was highlighted that the 3D model showed “hot spots and weather damage” the building sustained over the years.

Gracie Farnham, the T3 program engineer, shared some background on the curriculum. The educators work with students from rural Alaska, Farnham shared.


“The students have been learning about energy in general, and energy efficiency,” said Farnham.

She said Ranney is thinking about rehauling his heating system.

“We thought that was the perfect opportunity for the students to use the skills they have been building. A big focus of T3 is that community engagement aspect,” said Farnham. “We work with students and teachers across the state of Alaska. We develop curriculum, help teachers create lesson plans for science. It is also a club for students, providing a place for students to explore… we use a combination of project and problem-based learning. Creative problem solving is something we really prioritize here.”

The Cordova Times chatted with one of the student participants, Cordova High School junior Arianna Ryan, about her experience with the project. Ryan was also a part of T3 last year, and she joined to expand out of her comfort zone.

“We split into three different groups. I was part of the story telling group,” she said. “When Steve invited us, he was looking into heat pumps, but wasn’t sure if it would save him (money) or not. He invited us to ask the question, ‘Is it really worth it?’ We proved it is worth it to get it. I am assuming in the near future he probably will be getting heat pumps.”

Ryan shared her favorite moments during the project were the beginning and when it all came to together at the end, full circle.

“Putting it all together to make a plan was pretty cool. And I also liked the very end, when we all got to stand there and have our presentation, to see what everyone came together and got was pretty cool,” said Ryan.

Wendy Ranney, owner of the Orca Adventure Lodge, shared her thoughts on the students’ findings.

“We are looking over their results and reviewing our current system. It was very exciting to be part of the process and we hope to be able to use their data as we continue to strive towards a more efficient operation,” said Ranney.