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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»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Cross Cutting Concept, 1 Science and Engineering Practice
High School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 1 Cross Cutting Concept, 2 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emission (energy conservation, renewable energies, change in energy use)
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
Other materials addressing GPe

Energy Literacy

Human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints.
Other materials addressing:
4.2 Human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints.
Electricity is usually generated in one of two ways.
Other materials addressing:
4.5 Electricity generation.
Different sources of energy and the different ways energy can be transformed, transported and stored each have different benefits and drawbacks.
Other materials addressing:
4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.
Decisions concerning the use of energy resources are made at many levels.
Other materials addressing:
5.1 Energy decisions are made at many levels.
Energy decisions can be made using a systems-based approach.
Other materials addressing:
5.3 Systems-based approach.
Earth has finite energy resources.
Other materials addressing:
6.4 Earth has finite energy resources.

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 Science

  • 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.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

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.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1


MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

Science and Engineering Practices: 1

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

MS-P6.3:Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ESS3.A1:Resource availability has guided the development of human society.

HS-ETS1.B1:When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1


HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

HS-P6.5:Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

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