Teach the Earth > Energy > Activity Ideas

This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

# Ideas for Teaching About Energy

These ideas were generated at the Teaching Energy Workshop held in May 2009 at the University of Wyoming. The ideas below were inspired by the presentations, activities and interactions at the workshop; they are ideas only, rather than finished products. For a list of fully developed activities, visit the activities collection.

# Energy (Carbon) Footprints

Rob Milne, Dept. of Natural Sciences, Sheridan College

Topic: Calculation of energy usages and carbon outputs
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

Students will use an available calculator https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/ to collect and organize information regarding their household energy usage and resulting carbon outputs. The students will produce two actual "footprints" (shaped as circles) one for energy (1 cm2 = 106 BTU) and one for CO2 (1 cm2 = 0.5 metric tons).

## Goals

To become familiar with various uses and measures of energy.
To perform simple unit conversions.
To collect and evaluate information about personal energy consumption.

## Assessment

Students submit their "footprints" along with supporting calculations/documentation. Footprints are compared visually to evaluate any outliers.

## References

Mark Turski, Environmental Science and Policy, Plymouth State University

Topic: visualizing CO2 emissions
Course Type: intro

## Description

Using your car's mileage calculate the amount of carbon your car emits on its way to campus. Imagine that your car poops charcoal briquettes. How many would it have pooped on the trip?

### Goals

quantitative expression of and visualization of an invisible substance

Marie Johnson, Dept of Geography and Environmental Engineering, US Military Academy

Topic: electricity generation in your hometown and alternatives specific to your site
Course Type: upper level

## Description

Research where your hometown electricity comes from (coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric)

## Assessment

Some sort of worksheet followed by class presentation

## References

Students' home energy bills

# Electrical Energy Replacement

Wendy Calvin, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Nevada - Reno

## Description

Have students compare the quantity of energy it would take to run their household electricity for one month. Students can use their monthly energy bill and convert that to tons of coal, hours of sunlight with typical PV, number of wind turbines, water through a dam, or heat out of the ground from geothermal energy.

# Determine the area of solar panels needed to power a house

M.-A. Hasan, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Topic: Solar energy
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

Search the web for solar panel supplier. Download the specifications from their website. The specifications should give the power rating of each panel (e.g. 200 Wp). Determine the solar radiation in your area (from NREL website http://www.nrel.gov/rredc/ many resources under PVWatts link) and calculate how large an area is needed to power a house consuming 10 kWh per day?

## Goals

Get a realistic understanding of how much area has to be covered to power a house

## Assessment

Give the inverse of the problem as a quiz

## References

http://www.nrel.gov/rredc/
http://www.nrel.gov/rredc/pvwatts/ to use PVWatts calculator

# Should I go solar?

by Robert Rhew, Department of Geography, University of California - Berkeley

Topic: Effect of choosing a home photovoltaic system
Course Type:introductory level

## Description

Through a series of discussions and problem solving, students will help guide a typical homeowner (me) through the confusing web of information regarding home solar energy to help educate people on the true costs and benefits of solar energy use.

They will:

1. Calculate the true carbon costs of solar panel installation
2. Calculate the net economic costs of home PV installation
3. Assess government policy regarding financial incentives for solar energy

## Goals

1. Learn to calculate obvious and 'hidden' carbon costs for typical activity
2. Learn how to extract information from government sources
3. Learn to critically analyze policy

## Assessment

1. Correct answers to calculations (group problem sets)
2. Written or oral reports
3. If I am persuaded to install solar panels.

## Activities

1. Invite mayor or city council members for whom this is an important issue.
2. Invite solar panel installers to speak about practical issues.
3. End of class bbq at my home! Use solar water heater.

# Comparing Solar Power Potential of Urban versus Undeveloped Desert Areas

Steve Semken, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University
Topic: Solar energy
Course Type: intro or upper level

## Description

The siting of solar power facilities has become increasingly contentious as energy firms have begun to propose building many large PV or ST plants in undisturbed desert regions. These regions are perceived as "wastelands" by people who are unfamiliar with them, but they are actually biodiverse and fragile. At the same time, sprawling desert cities such as Phoenix, Tucson, and Albuquerque offer potential for distributed rooftop solar power production that could also provide shade and mitigation of the heat-island effect. In this activity, students are tasked with researching and analyzing climatic and insolation data for selected urban and rural or undeveloped desert regions, to compare their potential for power production as a function of solar-plant area (i.e., area of PV cells or area of mirrors in a ST facility).

## Goals

The goal is for students to learn and compare the advantages and disadvantages of PV and ST solar power generation, and to better understand that no energy production technology is without some environmental and economic costs.

## Assessment

By assessing the thoroughness, soundness, and accuracy of student analyses.

# Feasibility of solar energy use in Montana

James Staub, Department of Geosciences, The University of Montana

Topic: solar energy
Course Type: intro

## Description

Have students use different types of solar sources to determine if they are appropriate for the location where they live (or parents live) with determination of estimated installation cost versus years to payback.

## Goals

Information about different types of solar applications.

## Assessment

Accurate determination of best choice and cost.

# Subsidies for the installation of solar PV and geothermal heat pumps

Richard Kettler, Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Topic: Energy policy
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

Distributed power production (meaning independent, stand-alone energy supplies such as rooftop solar panels) could significantly improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. How should the efforts to install photovoltaic systems and geothermal heat pumps be subsidized compared to other energy resources?

## Goals

To explain and begin to value the externalities of various energy resources.
To attempt to compare these externalities in a quantitative way.

## Assessment

Evaluations of position papers and presentations by participants.

# Impact of using crops for biofuels on global food prices, carbon footprints and land degradation

Samuel B. Mukasa, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Michigan
Topic: Consequences of using certain "renewable" energy sources
Course Type: upper level

## Description

The activity would include compiling data on:
(1) Ramping up of food prices since biofuels came into vogue
(2) Conversion of arable land acrage into corn fields
(3) Diversion in manpower from food production to fuel
production

## Goals

(1) Demonstration of the concept of sustainability
(2) Development of critical thinking in assessing viability
of various energy sources

## Assessment

I would be happy if the students discovered on their own the non-viability of the biofuel industry in its current form

## References

(1) Consumer price index data
(2) State geological survey evaluations of land usage
(3) UN data on food production and prices worldwide

# Biofuel Subsidy

by Allen Kihm, Department of Geosciences, Minot State University

Topic: Evaluation of an ethanol from corn biofuels facility
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

This is a single laboratory activity

a) Students will be given a series of newspaper articles, press releases and similar information dealing with a proposed corn biofuel facility. The scenario is that this facility is being proposed for the immediate area (Minot, North Dakota) and that the company is asking for a tax break from the City economic development fund.
b) After completing the readings, students will be asked to vote either for or against the proposal, and provide a reason for their vote.
c) Students will then be asked to come up with potential issues associated with the biofuels facility (group discussion).
d) Basic information on the energy requirements of growing corn will be provided, along with information on water requirements, energy production requirements, energy output from ethanol,and students will be asked to make an energy comparison (input versus output). Additional readings on soil issues, fertilizer runoff, food price issues will be available, but not required reading.
e) Students will then be given a second opportunity to vote, and again provide a reason for their vote.

## Goals

Critical thinking skills and impetus to look beyond the superficial information typically provided by the backers of ethanol production.

## Assessment

The nature of the before and after vote, together with the reasons, either for or against the proposal should reflect a deeper understanding of the energy issues.

## References

These are the documents that I need to acquire. Ideally, I can use an example from North Dakota and just alter the scenario location to Minot.

# Biofuel project to evaluate energy payback and costs

Topic: How to make home-made biodiesel
Course Type: Upper level

## Description

Students collect used vegetable oil from local restaurants keeping track of time, miles driven, cost of collecting it. Then they bring it to a lab where we would make biodiesel from their oil, methanol and sodium (I think), of which we would keep track of the costs. At the end, each gets a jar of glycerin and biodiesel and they can try to sell it on ebay or burn it in their car. They need to come up with a cost of production, all included, and profit made.

## Goals

Appreciate time and effort that goes into making energy.
Evaluate quantitatively and mathematically how much you are left with from the initial mass/energy.
Evaluate costs and benefits of the whole process, not only using it.

## Assessment

Students' success in aquiring the raw materials, making and selling their biodiesel.

# Geography of Renewable Energy

by Glenn A. Richard, Mineral Physics Institute, Stony Brook University

Topic: renewable energy; geography of energy; Earth system; interdisciplinary problem-solving
Course Type: upper level

## Description

Choices about what forms of renewable energy are appropriate at specific localities on Earth are are sensitive to geography and the Earth system setting. That is, they must take into account availability of the energy source at that locality. Climate, potential effects on ecosystems, effects on local cultures, politics, social justice, and local economies are also likely to be significant factors. In this activity or course, students will use quantitative and geospatial tools to access, process, and visualize data in order to match real locations on Earth to energy technologies that are appropriate for to those places, and write reports on their findings. Quantitative analyses will include computation of payback ratios for each energy source or location.

## Goals

Students will understand the role of renewable energy in our society, communities, and other cultures within the context of the Earth system.

## Assessment

Students will turn in reports with descriptive text, quantitative analyses, graphs, maps, illustrations, and references to specify and justify locations that they choose for hypothetical renewable energy projects.

# World Regional Geography of Energy

## Description

This would be a team taught course, taught by a geographer, energy expert and an economist.
Topic: sustainability and justice
Course Type: upper level

## Goals

• What is the relationship between energy, sustainability and justice?
• What is the status of this relationship in different countries and regions?
• Where does equity exist and not exist?

## Assessment

• Students' ability to measure social equity with respect to: energy equity.
• Geographical literacy
• Ability to work with Google and GIS
• Ability to create balance sheets

## References

• Field trips
• Service projects
• Speakers/DVDs/atlases

# Ranking of Appropriate Renewable Energy Using Maps (and Google Earth)

Chris Sinton, Environmental Studies, University of Redlands

Topic: Determining regional variations of renewable energy resources
Course Type: upper level

## Description

Teams of two students will use a set of maps and Google Earth (they will need a PC). They will be given different types of renewables: biomass; hydro; wind; solar; and maybe tidal. They will be given a list of specific locations. Using maps of average windspeed, elevation (relief), volcanoes (or heat flow), and forest cover, each team will need to rank each of the renewable resources for each location and state their reasons.

## Goals

1) become familiar with decision making processes
2) understand the links between geology/physical geography concepts and different types of renewable energy
3) improve spatial thinking skills

## Assessment

Based on written assignment

TrueWind maps

# Using Appropriate Information Resources to Understand Energy Issues

Kathy Ellis, Science Department, Front Range Community College
Topic: energy literacy
Course Type: intro

## Description

Students will use http://www.eia.doe.gov resources to answer a series of questions in a laboratory setting.

## Goals

Reading graphs, navigating a government information website, thinking through complex issues.

## Assessment

There will be a report sheet for students.

# Energy Module to be used in Earth Science and ESS Class

Robert Meeks, Dept. of Natural Sciences, St. Philip's College

Topic: Energy Resources
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

To use the various activities and talks during this workshop to develop a module to interface with other courses which would give content and activities to the students about energy resources.

## Goals

Understand how energy interfaces with all areas of Earth Systems Science
Identify how humans have influenced the earth systems
Apply students' current knowledge to developing solutions to energy/environmental challenges

## Assessment

Portfolio of energy resources
Applications brief

## References

Materials from this workshop.

# Trees and Grass: Carbon, energy, and time

Tim Lutz, Department of Geology & Astronomy, West Chester University

Topic: Earth systems; fossil fuels; renewable energy; carbon cycle
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

Students use plants on campus to study amounts and rates of energy and carbon storage, and CO2 sequestration. They would make direct measurements and observations of the plants at different points in time (using previous years measurements for trees). They would use existing models and data to convert their measurements to physical quantities. With this campus observation as a starting point, they use area and time relationships to determine how energy and carbon storage accumulates over time. They compare the energy accumulation rate with the requirements of society now and in the past (in terms of per capita energy use, land allotted, other resources consumed, pollutants created, etc.). They would read introductory papers on renewable energy to see how their discoveries relate to more realistic renewable energy considerations.

## Goals

• Recognition of energy and environmental issues in the local environment.
• Learning about quantitative relationships and units of measure.
• Critical thinking about the issues that go into other renewable sources.

## Assessment

Assessment would be through worksheets carried out during the 2-3 class periods of the project.

## References

US forest Service models for carbon storage in trees (Jenkins et al., 2004).

# Stakeholder debates in CO2 sequestration

Gregory Baker, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee

Topic: CO2 Sequestration
Course Type: upper level

## Description

Students split into groups and assume stakeholder roles with the task of properly understanding their specific issues. May operate as a jigsaw for larger groups. Stakeholders could be:

- Energy company
- Government, Federal
- Government, State
- Citizenry, State
- Citizenry, Local

## Goals

- understand the complexity of CO2 sequestration process
- know the major components involved (technical) and the pros/cons felt by each stakeholder (emotional).

## Assessment

Evaluate scientific content (presentation) and comprehension (responses to questions).

# Second Generation Anthracite

by Sid Halsor, Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, Wilkes University

Topic: Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) using anthracite feed stock and carbon sequestration
Course Type: upper level

## Description

This activity examines the potential of anthracite as feedstock for IGCC. There are approximately 7 billion tons of mineable anthracite in eastern Pennsylvania. Can anthracite's higher carbon and lower sulfur content optimize IGCC efficiency? Can on-site carbon sequestration be cost effective?

## Goals

• be able to explain how IGCC works
• be able to assess which coal rank optimizes IGCC
• be able to determine the feasibility of coupled carbon sequestration

## Assessment

• evaluation of periodic briefs and panel discussion

# Energy Field Excursions

by Suki Smaglik, Ed Stermer and Trish Kuberra

Topic: sites of power resources; site specific
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

Field excursions to power plants and other energy sources such as home power. We seek to go beyond the tour using:

- preliminary research presentations
- fact checking reports
- goals-based design: what do you want to get out of the trip?
- photo-based aesthetic considerations
- photo-based

## Goals

- to be able to speak "the language" of energy
- to be able to describe the specific type of energy generation and its environmental consequences

## Assessment

- jigsaw presentations with citations and materials (rubric)
- post-presentation fact checker
- media presentation on pros & cons
- Thank-You note to tour sites/guides

# Interdisciplinary Explorations of Landscape

by Dick Enright, Anne Larsen Hall, and Christine Metzger

Topic: multi- and interdisciplinary interaction of science and visual arts
Course Type: introductory level

## Description

• short-term (or term-length) investigations and observations of energy issues via a scientific and artistic lens
• structured field experiences to "show the unseen"
• use art/photography to present other aspects of energy science

## Goals

• to learn in a mixed-background environment
• for artists to learn to think critically
• for scientists to learn to think creatively
• to stretch students out of comfort zones

## Assessment

• grade on observations, not talent
• peer review from a peer in a different discipline

# Future Projection Energy Returned on Energy Invested

Tim Schroeder, Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Bennington College

Topic: Energy Returned on energy invested for different types of energy production
Course Type:intro upper level

## Description

An idea for a activity on energy returned on energy invested that would help students learn how to use quantitative data in decision making:
Give students data showing the projected amount of that will be energy required to develop a set of energy prospects and the amount of energy that would be produced over the life cycle of the project. The project could be stepped over time to take into account efficiency gains for producing new energy technologies and the degrading EROEI for fossil fuel deposits as the quality of the deposits being developed decreases in the future. The data could also take into account lowered EROEI that will result from adding pollution control and carbon capture and storage to coal electrical generation facilities. The students would then use their calculations to make decisions on capital expenditures on new energy development.

## Goals

Quantitative reasoning and literacy
Physical science
Policy decision making