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Renewable Energy Living Lab: Smart Solar

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

In this activity, students work through the process of evaluating the feasibility of photovoltaic solar power in 4 different US cities.

Activity will take about one 60-minute class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 2 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 2 Science and Engineering Practices

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

  • This activity could be made more challenging by asking students to look up the price of electricity (instead of using the average rate provided in the activity) and to learn about the actual rate of government subsidies for solar installations in their home state (instead of using an average amount, which is likely to change over time as policies change).
  • Activity provides suggestions for scaling the activity for lower grades as well.

About the Science

  • Activity is designed to familiarize students with using the online Renewable Energy Living Lab data to evaluate whether solar power is a viable energy alternative for several cities in different parts of the U.S.
  • The data used in this activity comes from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the US Department of Energy.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students use a GIS-based mapping tool from the Renewable Energy Living Lab to quantify the amount of solar energy that can be generated in four cities (Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Portland, and San Antonio). Students go on to use the cost of solar panels and the price of electricity to determine the payback period for installing solar panels on industrial-sized roofs in these four cities.
  • This activity gets students thinking quantitatively, but it does so in a very step-wise manner, so it is not intimidating. Students use a mapping tool, a worksheet, and some helpful numbers (like the price of electricity) to calculate the economic payback period for solar energy in these four cities. As such, this activity could be useful for an economics class or economics case study.
  • The activity includes an outline for a class discussion, step-by-step instructions for educators, and assessment ideas.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • All the materials are provided, including student worksheet, answer key, and background information. The design and layout are clear.
  • The map viewer has changed a little bit since the screen shots were made. The instructions are still correct, but the screen shots look slightly different from the actual tool.
  • In general, the map is intuitive, engaging, and fun to use. However, finding specific cities on the mapping tool is not intuitive. To locate specific cities, click on the circular icon in the upper right corner of the mapping tool underneath 'change base map', which when hovered over says 'zoom to a location.' Then type in the city name.
  • Note that Living Lab interface is a beta release - 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 Teach Engineering collection that uses the Renewable Energy Living Lab GIS tool. For example, this activity uses the GIS tool more broadly: http://cleanet.org/resources/49460.html, and more examples exist on the Teach Engineering site.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-ETS1.B2:There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Engaging in Argument from Evidence

MS-P5.5:Use digital tools and/or mathematical concepts and arguments to test and compare proposed solutions to an engineering design problem.

MS-P7.5:Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

HS-ETS1.C1:Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others (trade-offs) may be needed

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

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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