In this lesson, students are introduced to the five types of renewable energy resources by engaging in various activities to help them understand the transformation of energy (solar, water and wind) into electricity. Students explore the different roles engineers who work in renewable energy fields have in creating a sustainable environment – an environment that contributes to greater health, happiness and safety.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Science
- 3.2 Students know and understand interrelationships of matter and energy in living systems. (Grades 0 - 12)  ...show
- 3.1 Students know and understand the characteristics of living things, the diversity of life, and how living things interact with each other and with their environment. (Grades 0 - 12)  ...show
- Standard 5:
Students know and understand interrelationships among science, technology, and human activity and how they can affect the world. (Grades 0 - 12)  ...show
- 2.2 Students know that energy appears in different forms, and can move (be transferred) and change (be transformed). (Grades 0 - 12)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents. (Grade 4)  ...show
- Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment. (Grade 4)  ...show
- Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5)  ...show
- Describe sources and uses of energy.
- Define renewable and non-renewable energy.
- Provide examples of common types of renewable and non-renewable resources.
- Understand and explain general ways to save energy at a personal, community and global level.
- Understand and explain, in general terms, how passive solar heating, hydropower and wind power work.
- Describe some general characteristics of solar power, hydropower and wind power.
- Understand the benefits and disadvantages to using renewable resources.
- Explain how engineers design more efficient ways to use generate electricity.
- Describe the role of engineers in energy conservation.
Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers
What Is Power?
What are the Different Types of Energy?
- Biomass is the combustion of materials that originate from living things.
- Chemical is used to fuel automobiles and other vehicles.
- Electrical drives many small machines and keeps lights glowing.
- Geothermal taps steam from water heated underground (like geysers) and uses it to spin turbines.
- Hydrogen power uses electricity to break down water into hydrogen gas. The amount of energy released is less than the energy used to break it apart, so not currently feasible.
- Hydroelectricity generates electricity by harnessing the power of flowing water (a renewable resource as long as there is rain).
- Kinetic is the energy of motion. A spinning top, a falling object, and a rolling ball all have kinetic energy. The motion, if resisted by a force, does work. Wind and water both have kinetic energy.
- Light energy is generated from light bulbs and computer screens, the sun.
- Nuclear fusion imitates the method the sun uses to produce energy. It involves the joining together of the nuclei of hydrogen atoms.
- Nuclear fission is when energy is given off from splitting nuclei of uranium atoms.
- Potential energy is the energy stored by an object as a result of its position. For example, roller coaster at the top of a hill.
- Sound energy is created, for example, when a door slams, it releases sound energy.
- Solar energy occurs from the sun (light).
- Thermal energy (or heat) boils water, keeps us warm and drives engines.
- Tidal energy is when the energy from ocean tides is harnessed.
How are Energy Sources Categorized?
What are Engineers Doing to Improve Our Energy Sources?
|Absorb:||To be taken into a material without transmission or reflection.|
|Active Solar System:||Solar power systems that use electrical or mechanical components, such as fans, pumps, and electrical controls in circulating fluids. These systems can be used for heating water or heating/cooling buildings.|
|Anemometer:||An instrument for measuring the velocity of wind.|
|Convection:||The transfer of thermal energy in a fluid (gas or liquid) by the circulation of currents in the heated fluid causing warmer packets to rise while cooler packets sink.|
|Electromagnetic Radiation:||Electromagnetic energy transmitted in the form of waves or particles (photons); the electromagnetic spectrum, in order of increasing energy: radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, gamma rays, cosmic-ray photons.|
|Generator:||A device that transforms mechanical energy into electrical energy.|
|Heat Exchanger:||A device, such as an automobile radiator, that transfers heat from one liquid to another without allowing them to mix.|
|Heat-Transfer Fluid:||A fluid circulated in a heat exchanger; this fluid gains energy from one region and transfers it to another region.|
|Hydraulic Head:||The difference in depth of a liquid at two given points; the pressure of the liquid at the lower point expressed in terms of this difference.|
|Insulation:||A material used to prevent the passage of heat, electricity, or sound (i.e., a non-conducting material).|
|Passive solar system:||Solar power systems that do not require electrical or mechanical components; these systems can be used for heating water or heating/cooling buildings.|
|Penstock:||A pipe or conduit used to carry water to a water wheel or turbine.|
|Photovoltaic System:||This is a system which converts solar energy into electricity.|
|Reflect:||This is when something such as sound waves or light waves bend back or return upon striking a surface.|
|Regenerate:||To re-grow or replace.|
|Renewable Energy:||Energy that is made from sources that can be regenerated or reused is renewable.|
|Rotor:||The rotating part of an electrical or mechanical device is the rotor.|
|Thermal mass:||Materials that store thermal energy, such as water, concrete, brick, stone, adobe, tile, etc.|
|Transmit:||To allow the passage through a material.|
|Turbine:||A machine in which the kinetic energy of a moving fluid is converted into mechanical energy by causing a series of buckets, paddles, or blades on a rotor to rotate.|
- Solar Power - Students learn how solar energy is used to heat buildings by investigating the thermal storage properties of some common materials: sand, salt, water and shredded paper. Students then evaluate the usefulness of each material as a thermal storage material to be used as the thermal mass in a passive solar building. This lesson plan helps students learn how the sun can be used for heating.
- Wind Power - Students develop an understanding of how wind is used to generate electricity. They build a model anemometer to better understand and measure wind speed.
- Water Power - Students observe a model of a working waterwheel to investigate the transformations of energy involved in turning the blades of a hydro-turbine. Students also discuss and explore the characteristics of hydropower plants.
- What percent of the energy the world uses today is derived from fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas)? (Answer: 85-90%. This means that only 10-15% of the energy we use is from renewable energy sources such as sun, wind and water.)
- The U.S. has only about 5% of the world's population. What percent of the world's energy do we use? (Answer: More than 30%. This means that the U.S. uses a lot more energy than other countries. Why do the students think that is? Discuss the amount of toys, appliances and other electric powered items in a single person's home.)
- What percent of the electricity consumed in the U.S. is used for light bulbs? (Answer: 25%. This means that we leave a lot of light bulbs on when unused. Can the students think of a time where they could save some electricity by turning off a light bulb?)
- How do we know the energy is there? (Answer: We can see it, feel it, hear it, etc.)
- Ask students to describe where this energy comes from. (Answer: ultimately all of it comes from natural resources (renewable and non-renewable), but it is often moved (transferred) and changed (transformed) in the process. You may want to give an example here like coal being mined from the earth, sent to power plants where it is burned to produce steam. The steam turns a turbine and produces electricity that is sent to our houses via power lines, and used in our electrical items like a refrigerator. Or how solar energy is used by plants to create food so they can grow and then we, in turn, use the plants as food to provide energy for our bodies.)
- Ask students to describe where they get their energy. (Answer: from food) Ask them to describe what might happen if suddenly there was no more food. (Note: this is a stretch for some because generally food is considered a renewable resource and because the food supply often seems unlimited to people in the U.S.). What would they do? (Answer: Become hungry, eventually starve, engineer some new source of nutrients, etc.) How would they feel? (Answer: Hungry, sad, scared, motivated to find a way to survive, etc.)
- What if there was only a tiny bit of food? How would it get distributed? Who would decide? What are some other consequences? (Answer: equal world-wide distribution, war, the rich get it, others die, new source of nutrients discovered/engineered, etc.)
Lesson summary assessment
Lesson Extension Activities
- Write and illustrate a children's story for 8-10 year olds about life in the year 2100. It should describe life without fossil fuels and should identify the energy sources used in everyday life as well as some type of conservation measures.
- Discuss what is happening with our world energy supply from fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. (Examples: fossil fuels are being dangerously depleted, the rich countries receive a larger share of the energy and are more wasteful with it, wars are developing; e.g., the Gulf War, scientists and engineers are researching and developing renewable energy sources, etc.)
- Check out the awesome information and activities/games at Environmental Education for Kids (EEK) website from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at dnr.wi.gov
- Check out some of the activities at Watt Watchers:
- Check out some of the activities and ideas at the California Energy Commission Energy Quest site www.energyquest.ca.gov/index.html
- You can see examples of how to design an energy calendar.
- Read the excellent information in "Energy Story."
- Read the fun story "Devoured by the Dark." Try the Nuclear Chain Reaction activity at http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/projects/nuclear.html
American Wind Association, www.awea.org
Boulder Community Network, Environmental Center, bcn.boulder.co.us/environment/
California Energy Commission, www.energyquest.ca.gov/
Energy Information Administration, Energy Kid's Page, www.eia.gov/kids/
Hewitt, Paul G. Conceptual Physics, Boston, MA: Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 2004.
Goswami, D. Yogi, Kreith, Frank, and Kreider, Jan F. Principles of Solar Engineering, Taylor & Francis Group, 2nd edition, 2000.
Graham, Ian, Taylor, Barbara, Fardon, John, Oxlad, Chris and Parker, Steve. Science Encyclopedia, Miles Kelly, 2000.
Milton Hyrdo, www.miltonhydro.com/main.php?section=community&sub1=powerkids
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, www.nrel.gov
Snow, Theodore. The Dynamic Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy, Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1988.
Steen, Anthena S., Steen, Bill, Bainbridge, David and Eisenberg. The Straw Bale House, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1994.
Texas State Energy Conservation Office, www.infinitepower.org/lessonplans.htm
U.S. Department of Energy, energy.gov
U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, www.eere.energy.gov
Amy Kolenbrander, Jessica Todd, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: October 2, 2015