One topic engineers often work with now is renewable energy. Look at some of the types of renewable energy available and how engineers work to harness that energy for people to use. Some online resources about different types of energy:
- A simple information and worksheet page about different forms of energy.
- Learn how the power grid works.
Click to watch some windmills while you discuss wind energy.
- Our Wind Lesson Plans have some ideas and resources for wind energy, as well as basic info on wind.
- Look at a practical application of wind energy in the playground by making kites.
- A Windmill lesson plan includes a neat explanation of the engineering process.
- TryEngineering also has a windmill lesson plan with worksheet.
- We all use solar energy all the time. Plants gain their nutrition through photosynthesis, turning sunlight into food which we eat, or which is eaten by animals which we then eat. We also solar energy to dry clothes on the line, for warmth, and to create vitamin D in our bodies. None of these uses of solar energy requires any engineering. Have students draw pictures, diagrams, or flow charts (depending on grade level) showing this kind of solar energy use in their own lives.
- TryEngineering has students take a calculator apart and learn how solar power works.
- The most common engineered use of solar energy is the photovoltaic module, or solar panel. The word “photovoltaic” comes from “photo” meaning “light” and “volta,” the name of Alessandro Volta, where we also get the measurement unit, volts. A photovoltaic module converts the light energy of the sun into electricity. This electricity is stored in batteries which then provide electric power, or is hooked up to a power grid. You can see an array of PV modules, or solar panels, on a roof in the picture above (photo courtesy of Rocky Grove Sun Company). Some people use solar panels to power their homes or businesses, while many more use them to heat their swimming pools or to reduce their use of electricity from the electric company. Check out an animation with worksheet.
- Using water to create electricity is called hydroelectric power, from “hydro” which means “water” and “electric.” I once had the opportunity to take some students to a hydroelectric dam, and it was an amazing field trip. If you have the chance to do this, take it. With or without that experience, you’ll enjoy a hydroelectric dam simulation.
- Water wheels are another, older way of using water power. We’ve also had the chance to visit a water-powered mill. Again, whether or not you get to do this, you can build your own.
- Discover Education has a dam building lesson plan that examines human costs and philosophical issues related to energy choices.
- SimScience has a trio of lesson plans at different levels looking at engineering failures and dams.
The guys at Rocky Grove Sun Company use all three of these kinds of renewable energy to power their own homes and workshop, and they make all their own electricity. They’ve also done more than 300 installations of these kinds of energy for homes and businesses. Ask students to figure out what kind of effect their work might have over their working lifetimes. Use this as a writing prompt or as a math and data analysis exercise.