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Power for Low Income Countries

Kushal Seetharam, University of Colorado; Duke University

This small-group activity uses engineering concepts to design energy systems for three off-the-grid towns in Mali, Ethiopia, and Namibia.

Activity takes at least three 60-minute class periods.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This activity is one way to integrate engineering and design concepts into a class without using equipment or a lab setting.
  • A possible extension activity would be to consider some US towns that are facing an uncomfortable transition away from coal. Colstrip, Montana, or towns in Wyoming or West Virginia are concerned for their futures. Is there a way to apply this same concept for these coal towns? Do they have other ways of generating energy, exporting electricity, or generating income and jobs? This extension activity uses the same skills as students develop in this activity and applies them to a nearby location.
  • Students, especially at the middle and lower high school grades, may need help understanding the pre-activity reading documents as well as reports and other documents provided for research on the local communities, energy sources and needs, etc.

About the Content

  • Activity focus is to design economically-viable engineering solutions to address the energy needs of off-the-grid towns in three African countries. Key goal of activity is to demonstrate that the most important parts of an engineering project often involve understanding the local context, then designing an appropriate approach, and communicating and defending a design plan to others.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    The resource provide a stimulating opportunity for students to become familiar with renewable energy topics in a not-traditional context such as developing countries energy infrastructures.
    Given the active learning proposed, I imagine the concepts to stick more easily in the students' minds.
    Wind energy has been shown to be the cheapest form of energy at present, so its technology can be considered mature.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students work in small groups to investigate an open-ended question: how will a small town in Africa generate enough renewable energy to meet its needs? Students use Internet research to learn about the town and its geography, natural resources, population, and economic prospects.
  • Each of the three villages has different resources and limitations. Students conduct research, make calculations, evaluate options, and create plans, which they present to the class.
  • This activity builds several skills in students. They need to evaluate different sources of information, use online resources to answer an open-ended question, synthesize information from multiple places, make basic calculations, create a realistic plan, and present their findings to the class.
  • The activity uses guiding questions to help students focus on the necessary information and structure their searches. It also provides a list of URLs for students to use in their research.
  • Several assessment strategies are included.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is well-documented and contains a pre-activity reading list, guiding questions, suggested URLs and resources, assessment ideas, and a rubric for evaluating student presentations.
  • Students may need support wading through technical resource documents provided for research.
Entered the Collection: June 2018 Last Reviewed: July 2016

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