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Renewable Energy Living Lab: Exploring Regional and Local Resources

Mike Mooney, Minal Parekh, Scott Schankweiler, Jessica Noffsinger, Karen Johnson, Jonathan Knudtsen, University of Colorado; Colorado School of Mines

In this activity, students become familiar with the online Renewable Energy Living Lab interface and access its real-world solar energy data to evaluate the potential for solar generation in various U.S. locations.

Activity takes about two to three 50-minute class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

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Energy Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Energy Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Link to the GIS Living Lab tool is a bit buried in the website. Direct link is: https://www.teachengineering.org/livinglabs/renewableenergy912.
  • Educators may want to use the Word version of the student worksheet to customize the instructions. In some places the worksheet may be too open-ended and space isn't given for student answers. Educators can fill in more specific steps, locations, or queries.
  • Suggestions are provided for scaling activity up or down depending on age of students.
  • Activity could easily be developed further by opening up inquiry to small groups of students to investigate their own questions and then present their results to the class.

About the Content

  • Central to the activity is GIS-based mapping tool from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) Renewable Energy Atlas. The tool shows the potentially usable energy from solar, geothermal, hydro, wind, biomass, and wave power.
  • Data provided in the Living Lab comes from NREL and the US Dept of Energy.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
  • Strengths: Teaches the students a tangible skill, using GIS data, which could be valuable knowledge for their futures. The hands-on and visual nature of this lab is good and the pre-lab questions promote critical, interdisciplinary thinking.
  • Concerns: Biomass is not always considered to be renewable. As the activity points out, renewables aren't free because there is upfront investment in the tech, but it fails to compare that with the cost of fossil fuel alternatives. Teachers should not focus on CSP since it is very expensive, and there so far have been a lot of issues with its development.

About the Pedagogy

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Using the query function takes some practice. Educators will want to practice using the tool ahead of time. Also, educators should be ready to walk the class through each step, which isn't done clearly in the worksheet.
  • The 'download results' feature only works for a region query, not a point query.
  • The 'clear query' function is not as described. Simply close the query by clicking the X.
  • The map viewer has changed a little bit since the worksheet instructions were written. The instructions still work, but some of the wording and screenshots do not match exactly.
  • Finding specific cities on the mapping tool is not intuitive. In the upper right corner, underneath 'change base map,' click on the circular icon, which when hovered over says 'zoom to a location.' Then type in the city name.
  • Note that the Living Lab interface is a beta release - it may change over time.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

This is one of several activities in the https://www.teachengineering.org/'Teach Engineering collection' that uses the Renewable Energy Living Lab GIS tool.
Entered the Collection: November 2021 Last Reviewed: July 2016

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