Segment 10

West Texas sits at the bottom of a wind corridor than runs through the Great Plains and on up into Canada. Here some of the largest wind farms in the nation have brought jobs to local communities that missed out of the oil boom, and generate more electricity than in the next three wind-producing states combined. The mayor of Sweetwater and a local rancher describe in down-home and memorable ways how wind has benefited their communities. Annise Parker, mayor of Houston, #1 municipal purchaser of renewable energy in America, explains why her city is committed to energy efficiency and to supporting an infrastructure for electric vehicles.
At the end of this clip, embodying the philosophy of the entire project, Richard Alley concludes by saying that energy efficiency worldwide could reduce demand by fully one third by 2030, and that renewables are a win-win-win for all, by avoiding climate catastrophes, generating jobs, and improving energy security.

Annotated Script
Please refer to pages 115-136

• Students will be able to identify on a map those onshore regions of the USA that have most wind potential, and cite reasons why wind energy has benefited sections of West Texas.
• Students will construct simple wind turbines and confront some of the engineering and design challenges inherent in harvesting wind energy. They will also understand some of the tradeoffs made in wind farm siting decisions.
• Students will be able to cite reasons why Houston, Texas, is trying to become the “renewable energy capital of the world.”
• Students will understand that conservation and efficiency can contribute from one quarter to one third reductions in energy demand in the USA and globally.

Energy, watt, kilowatt, kilowatt hour, megawatt, terawatt

Unlike several of the earlier clips, this segment is heavier on economics and engineering than Earth and climate science. Nevertheless, the statements of two Mayors and a cattle rancher turned wind farmer provide solid evidence of how renewable energy has already made a considerable and positive impact in a state known for traditional oil and gas.

This video clip contains some unexpected elements: perhaps use some of the questions in our online Quiz (Sustainable Energy) to get discussion started before screening the clip. Most American students will not know that Houston, Texas, is the #1 municipal purchaser of renewable power in the US (we assume they’ll answer San Francisco, or Portland), nor that Texas is the national leader in wind power, generating more than the next three states combined in 2009. Nor, in fact, that the USA—for reasons of geography and climate—is extremely well-placed to make wind power a major contributor to national energy needs. Those statistics come to life in the wind power enthusiasm for of Mayor Greg Wortham of Sweetwater (term expires May 2011) and the personal stories of rancher Steve Oatman. If time permits, or as a reading exercise, their Interviews on this website allow students to hear for themselves just how much economic benefit this region of West Texas has already gained from wind. Similarly Mayor Annise Parker of Houston makes a strong case for why her city’s air quality and energy efficiency will benefit from e-vehicles and energy innovations such as LED traffic lights and SmartMeters. (Several links and video clips in the Annotated Script allow further exploration of these topics.)

Perhaps, before viewing, ask students to list three things they know about Texas, and then revisit that list with the three most unexpected things they now know about Texas. And ask them how that new perspective affects their view of how wind or efficiency and conservation could be applied in their own community.



1) CONCEPT: Wind is an important form of energy because it is clean, safe and perpetually renewable.
Modern technology has improved blade design based on already successful technology of aircraft propellers and aircraft wings to increase the efficiency of wind turbines.


Original source: As the Rotor Turns: Wind Power and You
Teachers’ Domain , WGBH Educational Foundation

In this hands-on engineering activity, students build a tabletop wind turbine. Students become acquainted with the basics of wind energy and power production by fabricating and testing various blade designs for table-top windmills constructed from one-inch PVC pipe and balsa wood (or recycled materials.) The activity includes lots of good media and Web resources supporting the science content.

The CLEAN website reviews, cited above, indicate that some of the references to Danish wind information sources in this Teachers’ Domain activity are outdated, but through the American Wind Energy Association website and NREL’s extensive backgrounders on wind , it should be easy to find current substitute sources of information.

The activity takes about three to four 50 minute class periods, and additional but low-cost and easy-to-source materials are necessary.

2) CONCEPT: Wind is ubiquitous, but blows stronger and longer in some places than others. Engineering solutions can harvest more power, and avoid potential problems, such as interferences with airborne wildlife.


The advertised age range is grades 6-12. These materials cover the science and engineering basics (such as where it’s windy, and why: Lesson 4), but also provide units on whether turbines, bats and birds can co-exist (Lesson 11.)

The KidWind project has extensive teacher-tested free materials which you can preview to see if they would work for your students. It’s well worth registering and checking out the multiple units.

3) CONCEPT: Energy efficiency and conservation are immediate and practical ways to reduce demand and save money.


The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (DOE NREL) has a wide range of activities for all grade levels described at:

Energy experts sometimes say that conservation and efficiency are the “low-hanging fruit” of energy innovation. Some, like US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, go farther and in a metaphor that might hook students, say the fruit is actually lying on the ground, and that we’re trampling it beneath our feet when we ignore its potential and promise.

NREL’s School Energy Audit (PDF), found in the Middle School section (but self-described as being appropriate for grades 8-12), provides good starting points for students to work collaboratively to see if their school has energy savings still to be made. (Many schools will, of course, have already been part of such an audit.) But if students see for themselves that energy savings could result in money to pay for arts, or music, or sports programs (or even books and teachers!) that would otherwise be cut, then they can imagine themselves in similar positions to the two Mayors in the video clip. Saving money through the more efficient use of energy frees up resources for other much-needed services.

As the NREL Guide puts it, “The plan is to invest in “books not BTUs” …By reducing energy use, our schools could spend approximately $1.5 billion more on books, computers, and teachers each year …That amounts to almost $30 for each student, 40 million new textbooks, or 30,000 new teachers. In this activity, your students learn science and mathematical concepts in a hands-on, minds-on way. They become empowered to research their school environment and make recommendations for changes. They begin by focusing on the energy saving and pollution preventing opportunities that can be achieved by changing the light bulbs in your school library. They conclude their work by extending these findings to the opportunities in the entire school and preparing a presentation for the school board.”

Clearly this is a long-term activity, but by combining engineering, math, social studies and even language arts—how do you share results with the School Board or PTA, it brings many important themes together.

ET Core Idea 2:
Engineering design is a creative and interactive process for identifying and
solving problems in the face of various constraints.
Why are technologies created?
How do technologies interact with society?
What kinds of knowledge are needed to solve different technological problems?
How can people work together to develop a variety of solutions then mold these ideas into a single workable solution?
How can the best possible design be determined?

ET Core Idea 3:
People are surrounded and supported by technological systems. Effectively using and
improving these systems is essential to long-term survival and prosperity.

How do systems relate to larger and smaller systems?

ET Core Idea 4:
In today’s modern world everyone makes technological decisions that affect or are affected by technology on a daily basis.
Consequently, it is essential for all citizens to understand the risks and responsibilities that accompany such decisions.
Why do technologies vary from one locale to another?
How might the environment be affected when making tradeoffs during the making of new technologies?




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