Segment 8

Video summary: The US military is the single largest user of energy in the nation, but it’s also trying to reduce its “carbon bootprint.” Scenes taped at Fort Irwin and Camp Pendleton show the Army and Marines experimenting with wind and solar in order to reduce the number of fuel convoys that are vulnerable to attack. Solar panels on tents, efficient LEDs, and water purification techniques can save both lives and money. Overall the military has ambitious goals to increase energy independence. And with hybrid-drive ships such as the USS MAKIN ISLAND and biofuel-powered planes, it’s showing that renewable energy can both be practical and be spun off from military innovations into civilian life. 


(A bonus video looks in greater detail at how Fort Irwin, CA, is attempting to generate energy from trash:

Annotated Script
Interactive version: panels 69-83
Downloadable PDF: pages 34-41


  • Students will design an alternative energy plan for a military base.

  • Students will critically evaluate renewable energy technologies.

  • Students will design and build a renewable energy device to maximize power output.

  • Students will compare the energy efficiency of incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs and (optional) light emitting diodes (LEDs).

Middle SchoolHuman ImpactsGlobal Climate ChangeDefining Engineering ProblemsDeveloping Solutions


High School    Natural ResourcesHuman ImpactsDefining Engineering ProblemsDeveloping Solutions


Human Impacts on Earth Systems

  • Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise. (MSESS3-3, MS-ESS3-4)

  • Scientists and engineers can make major contributions by developing technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation. (HS-ESS3-4)


Natural Resources

All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. (HS-ESS3-2)


Global Climate Change

Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate

changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. (MS-ESS3-5)


Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

  • The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions. (MS-ETS1-1)

  • Humanity faces major global challenges today, such as the need for supplies of clean water and food or for energy sources that minimize pollution, which can be addressed through engineering. These global challenges also may have manifestations in local communities. (HS-ETS1-1)


Developing Possible Solutions

  • There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. (MS-ETS1-2, MS-ETS1-3)

  • When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts. (HS-ETS1-3)


Alternative energy, carbon footprint, fossil fuels, non-renewable energy, renewable energy, solar energy, solar photovoltaic, wind energy, wind turbine.

This video segment demonstrates how the US military is evaluating the use of alternative energy technologies and energy efficiency to power its operations and protect its service members. Students should be familiar with the various non-renewable and renewable energy sources prior to conducting the activities below.
Background Information
In 2011, the US Department of Defense (DoD) unveiled its inaugural Operational Energy Strategy (OES) (pdf). In its report to Congress, the DoD stated, “Reducing demand, expanding supply, and building an energy-secure force will mean a military that uses less energy, has more secure energy sources, and has the energy resources it needs to protect the American people.” In March 2012, the DOD released its OES Implementation Plan (pdf) that outlined energy efficiency and conservation strategies that will span each branch of the military:
- Increased energy efficiency across platforms and facilities
- Reduced energy consumption
- Increased use of renewable/alternative energy
- Assured access to sufficient energy supplies
- Reduced adverse impacts on the environment
Engage: Prior to viewing this segment, ask your students to brainstorm in small groups and create an alternative energy plan for one branch of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines). Alternatively, if your school is located near a military base, you could invite your students to make a plan for that specific base. This plan should be one that enables the branch/base to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels (carbon footprint). Provide students with large poster paper and colored markers and invite each group to draw their alternative energy plan and present their plan to the class.
Explain/Explore: Next, show students the video segment and let the students compare their ideas for their alternative energy plan to those described in the video. Then, describe to students what one military base is doing to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels. (Here, again, the Fort Irwin video might be worth screening, if not done before: The links below will help you find out more information about specific military bases and their alternative energy plans. As a class, discuss the various alternative energy strategies being utilized and identify additional strategies that could be implemented:
Department of Defense News Article, Fort Bliss to Launch Military’s Largest Renewable Energy Project (April 5, 2013)
Department of Defense list 249 renewable energy projects (2011)
The US Navy’s Great Green Fleet

1) CONCEPT: Each energy source (non- renewable and renewable) has pros and cons associated with its use.

ACTIVITY: Great Energy Debate

In this debate style activity, students debate the advantages and disadvantages of the major energy sources. The ETOM Facebook page also features graphics and short news stories about many renewable resources such as wind, solar, tidal and wave power: feel free to use those graphics as discussion starters. You might even pull out comments that, for example, criticize wind turbines as bird-killers, or concentrated solar thermal plants in the desert Southwest as threats to native wildlife. Several of these have triggered fact-based rebuttals about the relative number of bird deaths caused by cats or buildings, which might also provoke interesting discussion.

To align this activity with the video segment, make sure all renewable energy options are debated and perhaps assign one group to represent all non-renewable energy sources so that the class can compare the advantages and disadvantages of shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

2) CONCEPT: Renewable energy solutions currently exist and scientists and engineers are working to improve these devices to make them more efficient and/or more affordable.

The activities below are intended to provide students with authentic experiences designing and building a renewable energy device (select from: wind turbine, solar photovoltaic car, solar water heater or solar oven) to achieve maximize power output.

ACTIVITY: Experiments with Turbines

Unit 3 from Kidwind’s Windwise curriculum includes lessons in which students investigate and build wind turbines. also sells wind and solar energy materials for the classroom.

ACTIVITY: Solar Racing

Students construct and evaluate a solar-powered model car.

ACTIVITY: Solar Water Heater

Student teams design and build solar water heating devices.

ACTIVITY: Cooking with Sol

Students explore cooking with solar by building a solar oven.

3) CONCEPT: One way to reduce consumption of fossil fuels is to use energy more efficiently; energy efficient devices use less energy than their traditional counterparts.

ACTIVITY: Saving Energy at Home and School, Light Bulb Investigation (Lesson 9)

The NEED Project

(Middle School) Teacher Guide and Student/Family Guide

(High School) Teacher Guide and Student/Family Guide

In this activity, students compare the efficiency of incandescent, halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, and light emitting diodes (LEDs). Students evaluate each light source by considering cost of bulb, cost of electricity, lifetime cost of bulb, and environmental impacts (amount if CO2 emitted per kWh).

This activity invites students to use light meters to compare light output between incandescent and CFL bulbs; LEDs could be added to this investigation. Students can also observe how much heat each bulb emits. Lesson 10 invites students to use a Kill-a-Watt metering device to determine the amount of electricity consumed by an appliance: students could also use this device to compare how much electricity each bulb uses by plugging the lamp into the Kill-a-Watt device. The amount of mercury emissions associated with the use of each bulb could also be addressed (a good infographic can be found at:

This segment could further be expanded by asking students to investigate cutting edge renewable energy technologies, technologies that are still in the research and development and testing phases but that perhaps have potential to one day be adopted by the military and/or civilians.
Online resources for learning more about emerging technologies include:

Middle School

MS-PS3-3*: Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.

Earth and Human Activity
MS-ESS3-3*: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

MS-ESS3-4: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.

MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Engineering Design

MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

MS-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.

Alignment to performance expectations MS-ETS1-1 through MS-ETS1-4 will vary depending on the extent to which students design, build and refine a renewable energy device.

High School

HS-PS3-3*: Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer

HS-PS4-5*: Communicate technical information about how some technological devices use the principles of wave behavior and wave interactions with matter to transmit and capture information and energy (e.g. solar photovoltaics).

Earth and Human Activity
HSESSE3-2*: Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

HSESS3-4*: Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

Engineering Design:

HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Alignment to performance expectations HS-ETS1-1 through HS-ETS1-4 will vary depending on the extent to which students design, build and refine a renewable energy device.

*Traditional science content is integrated with engineering through a Practice or Disciplinary Core Idea.




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