Sustainability Lesson 5 Activities
Sustainability Lesson 5 Hook

Time: 7-10 minutes
Skills:  n/a
Objective 1
Related Resources: 
- About Bucky. Retrieved from:
- Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Home, Car, and Geodesic dome (2011, September 7). Retrieved from:  

Introduce R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, a renowned 20th century inventor and visionary born in Milton, Massachusetts in 1895.

Play the video on Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion car, house, and views: 

Questions for students:

Were you surprised to learn how long ago Fuller invented his Dymaxion car and house?  

What factors may have shaped their future production?

What factors may shape invention and production of energy-saving technologies?

Sustainability Lesson 5 Lecture on Energy Resources

Time: 30-60 minutes
Skills: n/a
Objectives 1 and 4
Related Resources:

Using lecture outline and PowerPoint slides, introduce students to the concepts of energy resources.

Presentation 1


I. Energy Production: (Slide 3)

A. Pose the questions to help students think about why current energy sources will not meet energy needs into the future:  

i.            What traditional sources of energy are utilized?
ii.            What are some disadvantages of these sources?
iii.            What alternatives exist for energy production?

B. Traditional sources of modern rnergy are typically fossil fuels:  (Slide 4)

i.            Petroleum based fuels (gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene, etc.)
ii.            Coal
iii.            Natural gas.
iv.            Percent of use world wide and by USA (Slide 5)
v.            What sectors use which energy in the USA (Slide 6)

II. Alternative Sources of Energy for Transportation:

A. Examples:        (Slide 7)

i.            Electrical battery cars
ii.            Hydrogen-powered cars
iii.            Solar and Battery 
iv.            Alternative sources of gasoline-type fuels (ethanol based)
v.            Alternative sources of diesel-type fuels (algae, etc.)

B. Non-petroleum fueled cars (like those listed above):

i.            Advantages: (Slide 8)

  1. Represents existing technology
  2. 71% of petroleum used in the U.S. is utilized for gasoline,
  3. Diesel and jet fuel. Reducing use of petroleum will reduce carbon footprint.
  4. Some alternative energy vehicles maybe carbon neutral, and thus not produce CO2 as a waste

 ii.            Disadvantages: (Slide 9)

  1. Currently all non-combustion vehicles are more expensive than their combustion counter-parts
  2. There are infrastructure modifications necessary to have many types of these cars usable nation-wide
  3. Two of the alternatives; hydrogen and battery vehicles have anumber of technological issues to have them be cost-effective

C. Battery Powered Cars (Slides 10-11)

i.            Zero emissions (pollution and CO2) directly from the car, but the source of the electricity can still be a problem regarding CO2 emissions and the global climate.
ii.            Utilizing nickel-hydride & lithium ion batteries has lightened the weight of vehicle batteries
iii.            Battery production does involve energy and other environmental impacts (including mining and disposal issues)
 iv.            New technologies will make battery-only cars feasible in near future.
v.            Note: Hybrid vehicles use batteries and petroleum-based fuel.

D. Hydrogen Powered Cars (Slides 12 -13)                   

i.            Hydrogen vehicles by definition emit only water vapor.  
ii.            Costs for hydrogen vehicles has remained high, innovation should bring this cost down.                     
iii.            May need to use natural gas as the hydrogen source, rather thandissociation of water.
 iv.            Cost of separating hydrogen to use as a fuel is very energy intensive as this point.

E. What are some alternative fuels used for cars? (Slide 14)

i.            Ethanol from corn, sugar cane or sugar beets.
ii.            Ethanol from cellulosic fuel sources (switch grass, willow, etc.)
iii.            Diesel from algae and other lipid sources.

F.  What are some disadvantages? (Slide 15)

i.            Not all of these sources are carbon neutral
ii.            Usage may increase the cost of food worldwide
iii.            Any increase in the amount of CO2 to the atmosphere is due to fossil fuel in producing fertilizer or to plant & harvest the crop

III.Alternative Sources of Energy for Heating (homes & buildings):

Q:  Recall from our last lesson:  what is a renewable resource? Can you think of one that can be (and is) used for heating?

A:  Solar, maybe geothermal [wood, though problems with renewability]

Electricity can be used for heating, and generated in different ways, which we will discuss next.  Here we will discuss two renewable sources of heating energy, solar and geothermal.  Another set of important concepts:  passive vs. active heating systems

Q:  What do you think is the difference?

Passive heating utilizes a natural, renewable source and does not use additional energy sources (pumps, blowers, etc).  (Slide 16)

Active heating: mechanical means are used store, collect, and distribute solar energy in building

 A.  Solar heating      

i.            Utilization of solar radiation to heat water and indoor space. 

      Q:  What are some examples of passive solar heating systems? Active?

      Share webpage/explanation at

      Q:  How would geography/climate affect these systems?

ii.        For water heating this process is best suited for warm regions (in USA, this would be southern and southwestern states)   (Slide 17)
iii.            Thermal (passive) heating for buildings involves utilizing construction materials that store solar radiation, thereby absorbing solar radiation during the day and radiating that heat during the night. (Slide 18)
iv.            Involves increased construction costs that are offset by lowering heating & cooling costs.
v.            Elements of active heating systems may involve other sources of energy

B. Geothermal

i.            Geothermal energy utilizes higher temperatures within the earth to heat water to either heat buildings or generate electricity.  (Slide 19)

Q:  What is an example of a geothermal heat source? hot spring, geyser. etc


ii.            Advantages: (Slide 20)

  1. Renewable source and technology exists (though could be refined)
  2. Does not generate any CO2 as a waste
  3. They are relatively cheap to operate (<½ cost of coal)

 iii.            Disadvantages: (Slide 21)

1. For large scale electricity generation it is restricted to areas that are volcanically active

Q:  What regions of the US have geothermal sources?  The world?

Operating in: Iceland, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Kenya, El Salvador, & The Philippines.  The largest group of plants are located in California (The Geysers). (Slide 22)

World map midway down page at:

2. Geothermal facilities are relatively expensive to build

3. Geothermal energy facilities are relatively large and with their piping systems they can cover an even larger area

 iv.            Smaller scale home heating applications utilize at heat exchanger that

  1. allows an exchange of warm or cold water (depending on the season) to preheat or cool water for home heating and air conditioning.
  2. This type of system is very cost efficient to run
  3. However installation costs (including drilling of closed-loop
    system in the ground) generally runs in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. (Slide 23)

NOTE:  At this point, the instructor could shift to the jigsaw activity noted in the plan.  Text and visual aid links for each energy source could be provided to the groups and the instructor might aid in displaying the former to the class. 

Presentation 2

I. Alternative Sources of Energy-Generating Electrical Energy

A. WHAT are some examples of renewable electricity-generating energy sources?: (Slide 3)

                  Hydroelectric (dams, turbines, tidal, ocean currents, etc.)
                  Stored Energy
                  Nuclear Energy
                  Wind Energy
                  Solar (multiple sources)

B. Hydroelectric I – Dams  Q:  What might be advantages and disadvantages?

Visual (US Geological Survey)

i.            Advantages of Dams (Slide 4)

  1. Existing form of energy production (2.4 % in the U.S.)
  2. Have a very low relative cost to operate (<½ coal)
  3. Do not produce hazardous by-products (waste or air pollution)
  4. Once built can have a very long life decades or longer
  5. Reservoir can be used for recreation purposes & irrigation
  6. Stored water is a constant energy source

  ii.            Disadvantages of Dams (Slide 5)

  1. Expensive to build, especially if they are to last (sediment issue)
  2. Impact large area upstream (reservoir – people & wildlife)
  3. Jurisdiction issues on rivers between adjoining states/nations
  4. Rise of local water table is possible
  5. Interruption of sediment flow on rivers
  6. Impact on flushing of water pollution

iii.            Examples:
Niagara Falls, USA Hydroelectric Dams (Slide 6)
Three-Rivers Gorge Dam, China (Slides 7-8)

Environmental impact includes endangering the Siberian crane and the River Dolphin.

 iv.            Underutilized resource (Slide 9)
Of the 80,000 dams in the U.S. only ~3% are used to generate electricity.  Price to build is already paid, cost to run is low– therefore we are missing a large opportunity here to use an already expensively built resource.

 v.            Example: New York State has over 600 registered dams, not including  many associated with the lock system on the barge canal.  Most do not generate electricity but could be retrofitted to capture this energy source.  (Slide 10)

C. Stored Energy  – Pumped Stored Hydroelectricity (Slides 11-13)

i.            Like dams but uses water pumped to higher elevation to store energy for periods of high demand.
 ii.            During periods of low electrical demand excess (low cost) electricity can be utilized to run pumps to store water at higher elevation, and then during periods of higher demand the water is released and       electricity is produced through turbines in the system.
 iii.            Due to energy losses in the turbines and during pumping this system is a net energy consumer, but if run correctly will run at a net profit.
 iv.            Basically stores energy produced during low need times for use during high needs time.  To be carbon neutral would need other carbon-neutral source of electricity.

D. Hydroelectric II –Tidal (Slides 14-16)

i.            Involves creation of ‘tidal-dams’ or free standing turbines in estuaries to capture flow and drive turbines
ii.            Advantages:

  1. Do not produce hazardous by-products (waste or air pollution)
  2. Located in areas that are otherwise not being utilized

 iii.            Disadvantages:

  1. Relatively costly to build & cost to operate is variable
  2. Would be limited to coastal regions, and only those with
  3. Relatively large tidal fluctuations
  4. Has intermittent energy production (predictable)
  5. Can impact organisms that live in these areas (especially those associated with estuaries – which generally have larger tidal       effects)

 iv.            Examples of Tidal Energy Production

 La Rance, France

 E. Hydroelectric III – Ocean Currents (Slide 17)

i.            A potentially very important source of electrical energy
ii.            Currently it is only speculative in nature

Presentation 3

I. Nuclear Energy

 A.  Advantages: (Slide 3)

  1. Existing form of energy production
  2. Producing >8% of electricity for theU.S.
  3. Does not produce CO2, and therefore does not increase our impact on Global Warming

B. Disadvantages: (Slide 4)

i. Extremely expensive (in many aspects)

  1. Produces extremely toxic wastes that need to be secured for (very) long periods of time
  2. Requires very sophisticated and complex operations
  3. Accidents at these types of facilities can result in widespread contamination by radioactive materials

ii. Examples:

  1. Kashiwazaki, Japan: World’s largest nuclear plant.Japan generates 34.5% of their electricity from Nuclear power.  (Slide 5)
  2. Paluel, France: France generates 78.8% of their electricity from nuclear power. (Slide 6)

 C. Wind Generation

i.            Advantages: (Slide 7)

  1. Existing form of electricity production
  2. Producing <1% of electricity for theU.S.
  3. Does not produce CO2
  4. Though tall, wind turbines do not cover a large area
  5. Turbines come in a range of sizes and can be used for a number of applications both on & off the grid

 ii.            Disadvantages: (Slide 8)

  1. Has intermittent energy production (based on the consistency of the wind) thus can’t reasonably have more than 20% of grid electricity from wind.
  2. The public may consider wind turbines to be unsightly
  3. Can be a hazard to bird (& migrating bird) and bat populations

 iii.            Recent advances: costs for wind generation are a fifth of what they were in the 1980’s based on relatively conservative estimates, wind costs only 5% more than electricity from coal-fire power plants. (Slide 9)
 iv.            To get wind power from “windy” areas to rest of country requires an integrated Power Grid (Slides 10-11)

This is also a factor for other alternative energy sources like: large scale solar farms.

v.            Large-scale power lines are more efficient than smaller.(Slide 12)
vi.            People don’t like the look of large power lines and fear them
vii.            Studies conducted in the 1990’s on the effects of electromagnetic fields (associated with power lines) concluded “that there was no evidence that showed exposure to EMF from power lines presented a human health hazard.” (Slide 13)

Presentation 4

B. Solar Energy

i.            Advantages: (Slide 3)

  1. Existing form of electricity production,
  2. producing <0.1% of electricity for the U.S.
  3. Does not produce CO2
  4. Can be done on small scale and large scale effectively
  5. Energy can be collected by several different methods: photovoltaic (PV),
    Concentrating solar power, thermal and water heating

  ii.            Disadvantages: (Slides 4-5)

  1. Relatively costly to build & cost to operate is variable
  2. Has intermittent energy production (though this is generally predictable)
  3. Large solar farms can have environmental impacts
  4. Not all region can take advantage of solar (USexample in Slide 10 part 4)

  iii.            Photovoltaic method (PV) (Slides 6-7)

  1. Produces electricity directly from sunlight.
  2. Photovoltaic’s involves the creation of voltage in a material as a result of electro-magnetic radiation exposure (sunlight). 
  3. Photovoltaic’s are relatively costly to install but have low operational costs. 
  4. PV cells may operate well for 30 years, and generally have warranties for 20-25 years. 

    iv.            Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) (Slides 8-9)

  1. Uses mirrors and lenses to focus light onto PV surfaces
  2. Or to heat fluids to generate electricity.
  3. Again, costly to build, inexpensive to run.
  4. To be cost-efficient these plants are, and will probably remain, restricted to areas with lots of sunlight.

B. Biomass

i.            Advantages (Slide 10)

  1. Existing form of energy production,
  2. producing ~3.6% of overall power for the U.S.
  3. It more efficiently utilizes solar radiation to generate energy
  4. Recycles CO2 in the atmosphere (carbon-neutral; efficiency of recycling varies based on which bio-material is used)
  5. Versatile: Can be used for fuel and to generate electricity
  6. Theoretically, should be cheaper than oil as an energy source

 ii.            Disadvantages: (Slide 11)

  1. Produces CO2 as a waste
  2. May increase cost for some agricultural products
  3. May increase deforestation in tropical regions

iii.            Examples: 

  1. Largest source of electricity from biofuels is landfill gas (methane, ethane & propane generated from the decomposition of trash) i.e., NH and NY in USA (Slide 12)
  2. Onondaga County, NY utilizes trash incineration to dispose of solid waste. The incineration process produces electricity for over 25,000 homes in the area. (Slide 13)
  3. Other Examples (Slides 14-15)

(a)    Wood burning stoves/hot water heating systems

(b)   Waste wood product for industrial electricity generation

(c)    Manure gas generation (Netherlands)

(d)   Algae: Current research is preliminary.

  • explains the energy source
  • summarizes the advantages and disadvantages
Sustainability Lesson 5 Jigsaw Activity

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: n/a
Objectives 1 and 4
Related Resources:
Sustainability5-Part1.ppt PowerPoint presentation
- Sustainability5-Part2.ppt PowerPoint presentation
- Sustainability5-Part3.ppt PowerPoint presentation
- Sustainability5-Part4.ppt PowerPoint presentation

Jigsaw Activity can replace latter part of lecture:  Divide students into 6 groups with each group assigned one of the forms of alternative energy: 

  • Hydroelectric (dams, turbines, tidal, ocean currents, etc.) (Sustainability5-part2)
  • Stored Energy (Sustainability5-part2)
  • Nuclear Energy (Sustainability5-Part3.ppt)
  • Wind Energy (Sustainability5-Part3.ppt)
  • Solar (multiple sources)  (Sustainability5-Part4.ppt)
  • Biomass/Algae (Sustainability5-Part4.ppt)

Provide each group with a sheet of poster-sized paper and markers. All students are provided with a handout on which the PowerPoint text for the 6 examples above. Instructions could be added at the top:

In your group, read and discuss the information about your aspect of the ecosystem.  Create a simple poster that

  • explains the energy source
  • summarizes the advantages and disadvantages

Prepare to present briefly to the class (appr. 3 min.)  You have {10-15} minutes for this task.

 After groups present, add any needed explanations.  For class discussion:

What seem to be the major obstacles to alternative energy development?  Have we discussed all the possibilities?

Sustainability Lesson 5 Reading Discussion

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objectives 1, 3 and 4
Related Resources: Osnos reading

Optionally, one could shorten the lecture and use class time for a discussion of the main reading.

Osnos Reading Discussion Questions:

  1. According to Osnos’s The New Yorker article onChina and energy, what are some ofChina’s motives for “going green” with regards to energy production? How do these motives compare to those of the US?
  2. How does China’s investment of government funds into energy research compare to that of the US?
  3. What is FutureGen? And how did politics influence its funding?
  4. What were some Chinese government actions that affected the use of coal?    
  5. How might China enhance the use of clean energy technology in other countries?
  6. What are the strengths of China and the strengths of the US in developing and manufacturing clean energy technology?  What are some differences? Multiple forms of differences incl. political and economic systems
  7. What is “carbon capture and storage”?
  8. Do you think electric bikes like the “Turtle King” will catch on in the US?  How would you improve it?
  9. How did Osnos’s depiction of “the Green Giant” illustrate global connections in energy technologies?
  10. What is Osno’s main argument, and is it convincing?  Why or why not?
Sustainability Lesson 5 Conclusion

Time: 5-7 minutes
Skills: Cross-Cultural Communications and Holistic Thinking
Objective 1
Related Resources: n/a

Ask student to respond to the following task (write, pair-share, etc)

Explain to Prof. Yao Qiang the varied political and cultural attitudes in the US that would shape responses to his statement:

Yao Qiang, a professor of thermal engineering at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, quoted by Evan Osnos:

“If the government does nothing, the technology is doomed to fail.”