Monday, May 5, 2008

Renewable Energy (Re)Sources

The Challenge:

In my last-minute lesson-planning preparation for this past Earth Day, April 22nd, I was desperately searching for some good simple graphics to demonstrate the various forms of renewable energy. Having a captive audience (e.g. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders), and a legitimate platform (Electricity Chapter), I figured that the least I could do was to give them a bit of history on renewable energy, and have a discussion on why all this magical "free" power from the sun, Earth's core, wind, and water (unfortunately) plays such a small role in our current energy sourcing.

I figured that the intermittent and irregular power outages here in Meerut would be some inspiration for these budding young scientists to improve the situation. (The newspaper last week pegged our power outages at 18 hours a day, but this is sensationalist reporting. Honestly we rarely go above 8 total hours without power (one outage each morning, afternoon, and night).)

The heart of the issue is population, in my mind, but family size is a religious affair here in India, so I thought it best to leave that alone. At its most basic level, the real reason we have outages is insufficient supply to meet current demand levels. With a State-run power system, free markets haven't been able to provide alternatives. The State is in a tough spot as well, and claims they can't afford to increase infrastructure because people aren't paying their electrical bills. It's not hard to imagine that folks are stealing electricity.

(All this is only my opinion, based on 4 short weeks in a land that has been inhabited for 4500 years. I know I'm a newcomer, so please correct me by leaving an insightful comment!)

But I digress.

The Challenge: (really this time...)
Where are the education materials? I searched for a single set of coherent, simple diagrams to help convey the underlying concepts of how these different methods generate power, and I just couldn't find any. There needs to be a good, complete set which discusses renewable/alternative energy options!

Please post a link if you have one!

Wikipedia page about India's sources of power:
Thermal (coal, gas, oil): 65%
Hydro: 26% (awesome!)
Nuclear: 3% (not renewable, but a safe alternative to oil, in my opinion)
Renewable: 6% (must be wind and solar?)

(Of tangential relevance: "The government of India has set up a "Power for all by 2012" goal" [wikipedia] Does this mean constant power, or intermittent, shut-your-business-down-for-hours-each-day power?)

Major Contenders:

Depending a full 70% on renewable energy, of course our Kiwi friends in New Zealand have some resources about Wave, Wind and Solar Power. (They even have an education initiative to combat climate change & peak oil!)

(Above three images from NZ Gov't Website.)
(I think I can post it. Anyone a lawyer?)

New Zealand's "West Island" (Australia) seems to have some abnormally high heat flows, making Geothermal power an attractive option to private entities there.


(Above two images from Geothermal Resources Limited)

Meanwhile, a voluntary 'Friends of the Earth' group back in the motherland of the UK clearly understands the cons of renewable Tidal power. Hopefully they are helping to work through these for the betterment of the Earth's total state, rather than just blocking them to save one ecosystem!

(Above image from Marinet.org.uk and originally Swan Turbines.)

And finally...
We get to two groups who seem to offer what I was looking for, although even this is a bit complex for a 1 day introduction. Perhaps either group is interested in developing a condensed primer?

The first is from the BBC, and is almost complete, but could use a few more illustrations.

The second is an excellent resource, even though I hardly know who is responsible for it! I wish I'd found this generic teacher's resource a few weeks ago. (Maybe appearing on tiny blogs like this one will help it gain popularity? Ha! Doubtful.) Anyway, I wish them luck and continued quality content! Seems like the World Association of Technology Teachers is a pretty cool group!

(Above photo from technologystudent.com)

And another "good" site about alternative energy by an Italian University could use simple graphics to complement their thorough work.

I had heard there were some good California government sites, but found only two worth reposting:
http://www.energy.ca.gov/
http://www.eere.energy.gov/states/alternatives/resources_ca.cfm

And the winner is:
None so far! I envision an "Introduction to Renewable Energy" information kit for teachers looking to break into this market. A primer, of sorts, for teachers and students to share. Format might be as follows:
  1. A single sheet about each (main) type of renewable energy (I know I've left some out above). This would explain at a basic level how the power is generated, give a few key facts that differentiate it from other energy sources, and have some links to further information on the web. This would be for teachers to use, and might never even get printed out (fewer trees wasted).
  2. The second item would be a single sheet with a simple illustration that graphically shows the differences between each renewable power generation method. This might be something that students can copy down in their workbooks quickly during class, to talk about with their families as homework.

A rough draft example of what #2 (above) might look like.
(Click for larger.)
Note the lack of words that clutter, and common themes: each box has an arrow showing the source of energy, and the generators/turbines are all uniform so one explanation suits most. Commonalities between various forms help with understanding at an introductory level, I would think.
(One might also note the lack of understanding on some -- especially the thermal solar power. I got lazy, I admit it. Also, anyone have an "exciting" and simple way to show how PV's work?)

In Closing...
Our friends over at Iridescent Inc. have agreed to take a look at developing some materials, if some excellent ones don't surface soon. Please leave a comment here or simply visit the Iridescent Blog and leave a note! Also, if you're an illustrator, writer, translator, educator, or even random person interested in helping these and similar efforts, please get in touch with either of us! We'll find a way to utilize your skills!