Energy and Thermal Physics

Investigating renewable energy sources

Classroom Activity for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

This activity gives students an opportunity to plan and then carry out sensible investigations in the context of renewable energy resources. Although the investigations are based on renewable energy resources, an important part of the learning is the acquiring of skills in investigations. There are three possibilities. You could choose one, or run one-third of the class with each.

If set up in context, this activity provides plenty of opportunity for debate about the validity of evidence and the chance to relate their evidence to data from the outside world (e.g. the number of sunshine hours at various locations in the UK, or the average wind speeds at different locations).

What to Prepare

Per group for vertical axis wind turbines:

  • one cassette motor (available from surplus stores by the hundred)
  • a 50 millimetre length of 6 millimetre dowel, drilled axially for a snug fit around the spindle of the motor
  • 2 or 3 toilet roll tubes
  • a domestic fan
  • a microjoulemeter
  • a model house, having a common terminal, leading via 1, 2, 4 or 8 100 ohm resistors in parallel to 4 other terminals, so as to alter the load on the power supply

Per group for horizontal axis wind turbines:

  • one cassette motor (available from surplus stores by the hundred)
  • a 100 millimetre length of 10 millimetre dowel, drilled radially in the centre, again for a snug fit around the spindle of the motor
  • a supply of stiff card or better, corrugated card
  • a domestic fan
  • a microjoulemeter
  • a model house, having a common terminal, leading via 1, 2, 4 or 8 100 ohm resistors in parallel to 4 other terminals, so as to alter the load on the power supply

Per group for solar cell:

  • a mounted solar cell (again available from surplus stores), fitted with 4 millimetre sockets
  • a microjoulemeter
  • a light source
  • a model house, having a common terminal, leading via 1, 2, 4 or 8 100 ohm resistors in parallel to 4 other terminals, so as to alter the load on the power supply

What Happens During this Activity

Students plan an investigation to see how much energy they can extract from the source each second. There are many variables from which they can choose, many of which are important to real situations. You can alter the number, angle and area of the blades, the wind speed, the area and orientation of the solar cell, the brightness of the light source and the number of houses that the power station supplies.

Allow between one and two hours of experimental time, and do encourage preliminary testing before settling on a set of measurements to be taken carefully. Results are often worthy of a class discussion session. You might set the whole process up in terms of needing advice for a regional power station, leading to some debate about the validity and applicability of the results.

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