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Renewable Energy Living Lab: Energy Priorities

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

In this activity, students explore real data about renewable energy potential in their state using a mapping tool developed by NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) to investigate the best locations for wind energy, solar energy, hydropower, geothermal energy, and biomass.

Activity takes at least one 60-minute class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

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

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

  • Educator should be familiar with the lab visualizations and tools before beginning the activity with students.
  • This activity can be used to help students become familiar with the mapping tool. After that, many different types of questions can be answered with the tool such as using multiple states for study.
  • Educator may want to expand the chart on the energy priorities worksheet to allow students to take more in-depth notes on their research. Educator may also want to go through the legend and the units of measurement before jumping into the lesson/analysis.
  • If time constraints exist, educator may want to jigsaw the activity by having each group of students explore different energy types, locations, costs, etc., and then present their findings to the class as each energy source and use of Living Lab Tool may require significant research. Alternatively this experience could be assigned as a long-term project.
  • Activity might be more of a challenge if different groups used different states and justified their recommendations to each other, rather than all groups working on the same state.

About the Content

  • This activity focuses on five key forms of renewable energy: wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biomass.
  • Using data and visualizations from the TeachEngineering Renewable Energy Living Lab (NREL data), the purpose of the lab is to identify which forms of renewable energy are most suitable for students' home states.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - Allows the students to obtain a visual grasp of renewable energy sources across the U.S., which is great! The data come from a reliable source -- NREL.
    - And, this is a great way for younger students to get a hands-on lesson covering data analysis and critical thinking in science.
    - I also love the way it demonstrates how important science is for making policy decisions, which have tangible impacts on our everyday lives.
    - One concern is whether or not the students will have a sufficient scientific basis for understanding the material presented in this lab. Some of the concepts/descriptions may be beyond their grasp, depending on the class academic level. For example, items such as primary energy source, or public utilities commission, are not explained in the lab (but must likely will need to be defined for the students). Things such as what a watt is (and examples showing just how much power is in a watt) should also be incorporated by the teacher into the lab.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity takes a fairly complex topic - where to find the best locations to develop renewable energy - and asks students to search for answers by using a GIS-based mapping tool. The tool gives results visually and quantitatively, so students can be analytical in their thinking and decision making.
  • This activity engages students in higher-order thinking as they evaluate different locations and energy sources and make a recommendation to the state public service commission.
  • In groups of two, students take the role of engineers tasked with investigating which form(s) of renewable energy their home state should focus on as it recruits new energy companies to do business in the state. Energy priorities worksheet guides students through the investigation using the Renewable Energy Living Lab visualizations and data.
  • Assessment ideas are included.
  • Rich list of additional resources provided on the teacher guide.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The design and layout are clear. All the materials are provided, including student worksheet, background information, and answer key.
  • The map viewer has changed a bit since the screenshots were made. The instructions still work, but the screenshots look slightly different from the actual tool.
  • 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. Aside from that, the map is intuitive, engaging, and fun to use.
  • Note that the visualization is a beta version - may change over time.

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

Larger curriculum can be found on the Teachers' resource page: https://www.teachengineering.org/livinglabs/renewableenergyeducators
Entered the Collection: June 2018 Last Reviewed: July 2016

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