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How much of the energy you use could be considered “green” energy, and where does it come from? Renewable energy draws from natural sources that are constantly replenished, such as the sun, water and air currents, geothermals and more. Renewables offer the potential to move away from polluting energy sources such as fossil fuels (i.e. gas, coal and oil) that help drive climate change and cannot be restored once used.
In recent years, the dropping cost of renewables has made them more attractive to businesses, from Amazon announcing nine new green technology programs to major solar technology investment from companies such as Tesla. But one challenge of renewable energy generation is that some locations can access the power of nature better than others, and renewable power generation can raise questions of land-use that affect communities in new ways. This includes wind power from large turbines, which need reliable wind generation and plenty of physical space to generate large-scale energy.
How can invention accommodate local interests and concerns to best support renewable energy sources?
One 60-minute class periods (the extension can last 1-3 days if desired)
Science, engineering, technology, social studies, civics
Participants will look at wind pattern data from NOAA to determine why the area off of Cape Cod was specifically targeted for this new build. Participants will then use wind pattern data to determine the suitability of their own community for wind energy and think through challenges of placing wind energy within their community. This will be done using the CER (Claim-Evidence-Reasoning) format which scientists, historians and researchers use to study a problem and propose a solution. A “claim” is a statement that answers a question; “evidence” is the data that supports the claim and “reasoning” explains how the evidence that supports the claim is true.
- Computer with Internet access and speakers
- White board and dry erase marker (if needed)
- For the extension, add brads, a box fan, scissors, glue, heavy cardstock and craft sticks
View the video below from PBS NewsHour.
With your group, discuss the following:
- Why does the mayor of the town of New Bedford, Mass. favor wind farms?
- Why do others in the community not like the idea of large-scale off-shore wind farms?
- What are some ways the wind-farms could be adapted to make them more acceptable to those who do not favor them?
Be prepared to present your ideas to the class.
Students will assess their own community for wind-power suitability using the NOAA maps and create a presentation as if they were sharing their plans at their town or city council meeting. If you have a few students who are interested in presenting their plan to their mayor or local council members, consider inviting them to class!
As students are creating their proposal, they should include information on anticipating local challenges, such as available space, threat to other land-use industries (like the fisheries), migrating birds, reactions from members of the public who don’t want the skyline to change, etc. Students should also consider creative solutions — would solar work better? What about adapting wind tech in some way to make it less obtrusive on the skyline, or fit into urban environments somehow, or protect migrating animals?
Like all well-prepared presenters at city council meetings, students will create a sketch or a model of their plans and jot down important notes for reference.
- Log into your computer and navigate to this link from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
- On this page, you see two maps; the left one is the average wind speed while the one on the right is how far above or below the average the wind was on that day.
- Pick a year (must be done first) and a month; click submit.
- You now see colors that are for wind speed. Darker colors indicate faster speeds while light colors indicate slower speeds.
- Dig deeper into the NewsHour video: Look up the area just southeast of Cape Cod, Mass. Check out a few data points using the month and year from over the last decade. Why do you think that this is the location proposed for Project Vinyard Wind?
- With your group, why do you think that this is the location proposed for Project Vinyard Wind? Briefly share your response with the class.
- Record the wind speed for your own area using NOAA’s site for a total of ten years for the same month. What do you notice?
- Choose your area, if it makes sense, otherwise locate the nearest area to you in which a windmill could be an effective renewable energy source, including off-shore, to present a plan for a new windmill in front of your town or city council. If wind doesn’t make sense at all, consider a different form of renewable, such as solar panels.
- You will present your reasoning in the CER format with your group on paper or digitally, including a sketch or model. Jot down some notes that include the following:
- C is your claim: State where you think the new wind farm should go.
- E is your evidence: Include data that supports your claim. Something like, “Data from NOAA indicates that average wind speed…” Be sure to address the following points:
- Local challenges, such as available space, threat to other land-use industries (like the fisheries), migrating birds, push back from people who don’t want the skyline ruined, etc.
- Incorporating creative solutions — would solar work better? What about adapting wind tech in some way to make it less obtrusive on the skyline, or fit into urban environments somehow, or protect migrating animals?
- R is your reasoning: Explain the why and the how of the data. Something like, “The data for this area shows…”
- Before you present your CER to the town or city council members (your classmates and teacher!), run through your proposal a couple of times with your group. Discuss challenges that each invention may not have anticipated, including impacts of the new energy technology on communities and the environment.
- Now, make adjustments or changes to your CER and write out your final copy.
- Share with the class as time allows. Decide whose proposal has the best chance of passing. If you think your proposal has some viability, why not invite a town representative or city council member to your class to share your idea and get feedback?
- Check out this animation from the U.S. Department of Energy that shows how wind farms operate. If the wind speeds up or slows down, what do you predict will happen to the amount of electricity produced?
- Why do most wind turbines have three blades? Build models of turbines with 2, 3 and 4 blades and see if you can figure it out!
Mr. Doug Spicher is a teacher with 30 years of classroom experience in Prince George’s and Howard Counties in Maryland. Doug has a BS from Youngstown State and an MEd in curriculum from Loyola College. He has written activities for both counties and is a contributor of PHet activities for the University of Colorado at Boulder.
PBS NewsHour Classroom is always looking for ways to make our invention resources stronger. If you completed part or all of this lesson, we’d greatly appreciate it if you filled out this feedback form.