Students will investigate a variety of renewable energy resources, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each.
In this lesson, students will use Internet resources to investigate renewable sources of energy. The students should already have a basic understanding of energy, and know several examples of renewable and nonrenewable sources.
It's important to be aware of common misconceptions associated with energy. For example, students believe energy is associated only with humans or movement, is a fuel-like quantity which is used up, or is something that makes things happen that is expended in the process. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 338.) Although students typically hold these meanings for energy at all ages, upper elementary-school students tend to associate energy only with living things, in particular with growing, fitness, exercise, and food. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 338.) In addition to not readily understanding the conservation of energy, students do not understand that once energy is converted, it is not necessarily in a usable form.
This lesson is designed to help students investigate and evaluate renewable energy sources. Most students can name several renewable resources, but have little understanding of them. It's important for students to examine controversial issues associated with renewable energy sources from multiple perspectives; by exploring benefits, drawbacks, and social ramifications, students will develop a deeper appreciation for these complex issues.
- Gather resources for student research, including reviewing the websites suggested in the Development.
- Determine due dates for various steps of the lesson, if possible.
Ask the following questions in order to review basic ideas and find out what students already know about renewable and nonrenewable energy sources. Be sure to determine if students hold any misconceptions.
- Is there more than one source of energy?
- What are some sources of energy?
- What is meant by a renewable energy source? What are some examples?
- What is meant by a nonrenewable energy source? What are some examples?
- Discuss major differences between nonrenewable and renewable/alternative energy sources.
- Do you know of any places where renewable/alternative energy sources are regularly being used?
Accept all answers and encourage your students to explain their answers. Let students know that they will focus on renewable/alternative energy sources in this lesson.
In this part of the lesson, student examine the costs and benefits of renewable energy sources. To begin, students should use their Renewable Energy Sources student esheet to go to and read these articles:
As students read these articles, they should answer the questions on the Costs and Benefits of Renewable Energy student sheet. You can go over these questions with your students:
- There were five sources of renewable energy described in this article. What are they?
- What are the sources of nonrenewable energy (fossil fuels) described in these articles?
- What are the benefits of using renewable energy technologies?
- According to the table in the Your Guide to Renewable Energy, which energy resource is the least expensive? Which one is the most expensive?
- Why aren't some renewable resources widely accepted today?
Divide students into teams of four or five. Each team will be responsible for researching one of the following: Solar; Wind; Geothermal; Biomass; or Hydropower systems.
Distribute the Renewable Energy Resources student sheet and explain the entire scope of the lesson to students. Explain the final product (the vote), as well as all steps leading up to that. Be sure that the due dates are clear and recorded on the student sheets. If they aren't known yet, be sure to remind students to record them as they are determined.
In their research, students could use any of the following online resources, as well as any others you find appropriate. They also could use print resources available in the classroom or library.
- Renewable Energy, part of Energy Kid's Page from the Department of Energy, offers a basic introduction to each energy resource.
- Learning About Renewable Energy provides more in-depth information.
- Energy Story has a chapter devoted to each type of renewable energy.
- The U.S. Department of Energy's Frequently Asked Questions page allows students with specific questions to contact specialists from the Energy Information Administration by using a tool found on the right side of the page near the middle (students will have to scroll down the page).
As outlined on the student sheet, after students have finished their research and one-page summaries, they should present their findings to the class. They could use PowerPoint, Excel, or other creative presentation formats.
At appropriate times during the presentations, lead discussions to help the rest of the class process the information and compare the benefits and the drawbacks of each type of resource. Ask questions such as:
- What are the potential impacts of the different types of energy?
- What are the benefits of each?
- What are the drawbacks of each?
- Are there any environmental impacts from the different types of energy?
- Are there economic impacts from the different types of energy?
- What sort of social issues impact the use of alternative sources of energy?
- What is the greatest factor that has kept alternative energy sources from being universally accepted/adopted?
As stated on the Renewable Energy Resources activity sheet, students will write a "community news article" in which they choose the type of alternative energy they feel would be the easiest to implement in widespread use. They should use persuasive writing in an attempt to be a community advocate; they will ultimately try to persuade other members of the community to adopt this alternative energy source. Students should defend their choice using information learned in this lesson (in their research, if applicable, and other student presentations). They should address social impacts, costs, and environmental impacts. Be sure that the expectations for this letter are clear; you may wish to use a rubric that clearly states the guidelines.
Then, hold a mock town-hall meeting in which students are advocates for particular energy sources. Structure this activity to suit the needs of your class. It could be a quick activity, or one for which the students make posters, flyers, and dress in costume. Have students discuss and debate the various alternative energy sources, and at the end, hold a class vote to determine what type of alternative energy is to be adopted by the town.
Have the students go to Energy Quest's Experiment with Water to Produce Energy to design their own water wheel. They can experiment with the number of blades, the size of blades, the speed of running water, and the size of the wheel.
Students can share their findings on renewable energy with a local congressperson via e-mail. If they don't know the address, they can find it by going to the United States House of Representatives site and using the tool found near the middle of the page.
Students can further research the benefits and limitations of renewable alternative energy sources at the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network site. This site lays out the different types of renewable energy in a short but succinct style that will appeal to many students.
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The 20th century was without doubt the age of fossil fuels—oil, in particular. Fossils had been excavated almost throughout the entire history of humanity, but it is the 20th century which brought the scales of the excavation to the limit. Gasoline for vehicles, aircraft, and vessels, fuel for space flights and war machines, heating systems—all this and much more works on fossil fuel, even in 2017. However, since the first studies proving that the utilization of fossil fuels makes a huge part of the global warming process, there have been talks about not only regulating its usage, but also about seeking for alternatives to oil, gas, and other sources of energy popular nowadays. Such alternatives are usually called with a generalized term “renewable sources of energy,” meaning that unlike fossil fuels (which are gradually depleting, and are expected to become exhausted completely by the end of the current century) these new sources will constantly replenish themselves.
So, what exactly are renewable sources of energy?
There are two terms in regard to the subject which are regularly used nowadays: alternative energy, and renewable energy. The former is a more generalized term, used to describe any energy source that is different from traditional fossil fuels, and which cause little-to-no negative impact on the environment. In its turn, the term “renewable energy” refers to energy generated with the help of the forces of nature: sun, water, wind, biomass, the inner heat of the Earth (geothermal energy), and so on (PennState Extension). Renewable energy is based not on depletable material, but rather on natural processes that cannot readily disappear if made use of. For example, solar energy is something everyone around the globe has access to; the Sun shines for billion of years with almost the same stability, and it is unlikely that generating energy from its heat and light can do any harm to the star itself. The same goes for windmills, watermills, and so on: instead of working on matter, alternative sources of energy make use of how the wind blows, or how the water flows, and thus cause much less harm to the environment, and do not exhaust natural resources.
Currently, there are several sources from which scientists have learned to accumulate energy: solar energy, hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy, and bioenergy. Solar energy is created by the light and temperature produced by the Sun. Respectively, there are two types of solar energy: photovoltaic and thermal. The former implies producing electricity from sunlight, using photovoltaic elements, or cells. These cells are combined in large groups, known as solar panels, and put on rooftops, or other surfaces which are constantly being exposed to sunlight. Another way of capturing sunlight in order to produce energy involves using heliostats—huge mirrors which reflect and concentrate sunlight, converting it into thermal energy. Heat energy can be later converted into electricity as well (due to steam generation, which then drives steam machines), or can be used in industries that currently utilize gas and other fossils in order to produce heat. The energy outcome from every solar power station is huge, but there are other alternative sources of energy as well. For example, hydropower: free-falling water drives special turbines, which rotate and generate electricity; wind energy is gained in an approximately similar way, except that electric turbines are driven by wind, not water. A more advanced source is ocean energy: by exploiting temperature differences between ocean surfaces and depths, it is possible to produce a vast amount of energy. Tides and waves can serve as secure energy sources as well. Geothermal energy is gained by utilizing the heat of the Earth’s core; finally, bioenergy is gained from processing organic matter: agricultural and forestry products, biological waste, compost, garbage, and other similar substances can be converted into thermal and electric energy (Australian Renewable Energy Agency).
Renewable energy is effective in many ways: economically, ecologically, politically, and so on. It is no surprise that many countries around the world have started attempting to substitute or diversify their energy with the help of alternative energy sources. For example, their share in the overall energy consumption in the United States in 2016 already was around 10%. 15% of the electricity generated was from alternative sources of energy. Industries in the United States actively use biofuels and other non-hydroelectric energy sources: their consumption has doubled since 2000 to 2016, and according to estimates of the United States Energy Information Administration, the amount of projects relying on alternative energy sources will only continue to grow (EIA). Other nations actively research and implement renewable energy as well. For example, Sweden is expected to become the first country in the world to completely give up on fossil fuels; the Swedish government has announced this goal in 2015, causing huge investments into the country’s research and industries connected to renewable energy. Costa Rica was the first country to have reached 99% of its annual energy production solely due to alternative energy sources in 2015. Also in 2015, Denmark became the first country to produce 42% of its electricity with the help of solar turbines. The list of countries heavily developing alternative energy sources includes Morocco, Nicaragua, China, Germany, Scotland, and many others (CleanTechnica).
Alternative energy sources have high chances to become the future of humankind’s energy solutions; fossil fuels were necessary at a certain stage of technological and scientific progress, but nowadays, it has become obvious that their extensive usage is not only expensive, but also dangerous for the environment and the health of billions of people around the world. Countries such as Sweden, the United States, Denmark, and several others actively research and implement renewable energy technologies, helping them to produce more electricity and thermal energy due to such sources as the Sun, rivers and waterfalls, ocean tides and waves, biomass, and the heat of the Earth itself. Renewable energy is cleaner, cheaper, and able to completely substitute fossil fuels. When this happens, the whole planet will become a better place to live.
“What is Renewable Energy? (Renewable and Alternative Energy).” PennState Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2017.
“What is Renewable Energy?” Australian Renewable Energy Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2017.
“What is Renewable Energy?” Energy Information Administration. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2017.
“How 11 Countries are Leading the Shift to Renewable Energy.” CleanTechnica. N.p., 04 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 July 2017.
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