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State Electricity on Google Earth: How many solar panels would it take?

Todd Greene California State University-Chico, Billy Goodman Passaic Valley High School, Maureen Padden McMaster University, CLEAN Community Collection

In this activity, students calculate electricity use by state and determine, using Google Earth, how much land would be required to replace all sources of electricity with solar panels.

One to two class periods plus additional student time outside of class. Computer access with Google Earth program is necessary

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 1 Cross Cutting Concept, 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 presents a basic outline for a class project using Google Earth. Activity should be preceded by a lesson on how to use Google Earth in a scientific context to provide students with the basic skills needed to use this tool.
  • Educator will need to provide handouts and complete instructions.
  • The instructor can provide information on solar panel costs and/or state population, to expedite the lesson, or have students research this information.

About the Science

  • This open-ended project has students use Google Earth to gather information to do an analysis of the feasibility of converting current non-renewable energy sources to solar energy.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students use data to examine statewide electricity use. Students perform calculations to determine the extent of land area needed to supply the entire state with electricity via solar power. This activity requires merging data from multiple sources and considering the feasibility of using large areas of land to generate solar power.
  • The notion of land use and trade-offs needs to be considered in this activity, so students may have to discuss where to set aside large tracts of land for solar panels. This discussion could include how land is used by underserved groups.
  • Some students may need more scaffolding and specific instruction than this activity provides.
  • Educators need to be familiar with Google Earth in order to teach this lesson. Links to teaching tips with Google Earth are provided.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity does not have student handouts or instructions. These materials would need to be generated by the educator.
  • No background materials on the topic are provided - educator might have to provide additional information.
  • This activity is designed to use Google Earth but you can access the data through the related urls below.
  • Some of the Google Earth files do not state the source of the data, although data is also available from the Department of Energy. Information about solar panels is not supplied so students must find their own materials for that part of the assignment.

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

This activity can be accessed at these web sites instead of through Google Earth. Consumption of Electricity and Petroleum per Capita: http://geocommons.com/maps/27351; Distribution and Cost of Energy in the US: http://geocommons.com/maps/14460

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4

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.

HS-PS3.B4:The availability of energy limits what can occur in any system.

HS-PS3.D1:Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

HS-PS3.D3:Solar cells are human-made devices that likewise capture the sun’s energy and produce electrical energy.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1

Systems and System Models

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Developing and Using Models, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

HS-P2.6:Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

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