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Grade 9-12
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Lesson

Blowing in the Wind

Updated: September 16 2015,
Author: Cheryl McGaughey

Wind energy is becoming a viable alternative to more traditional forms of energy generation. In this lesson, students will determine the feasibility of wind generation in different areas of the United States. Finally, students will explore the possible role of government in providing incentives for wind energy generation.

Introduction

Wind energy is becoming a viable alternative to more traditional forms of energy generation. In this lesson, students will determine the feasibility of wind generation in different areas of the United States and examine the costs and benefits of wind energy. Finally, students will explore the possible role of government in providing incentives for wind energy generation.turbines

Wind energy is not a new concept. People have been using the power of the winds throughout history. Evidence exists that wind power was used to propel boats along the Nile River as early as 5000 B.C.

Simple windmills in China were used to pump water thousands of years ago. In the United States, many farmers and ranchers used windmills during the 1800s, especially in the West, to pump water. Now consumers are taking a fresh look at wind power as an alternative way to generate electricity without the use of fossil fuels and their inherent costs. In this lesson, you will learn how wind energy generation works today. Some of the costs and benefits of wind energy and viable locations in the United States (those with the best wind energy potential) will be explored.

People use a cost-benefit analysis everyday to help make decisions, often without realizing it. For example, a college student has a choice everyday when the alarm goes off. He can get out of bed and go to class or hit the alarm and go back to sleep. The student weighs the costs and benefits of getting up, considering what he would learn in class (and the possibility of a quiz) against the loss of sleep. A decision is then made based on self-interest. If the value of going to class exceeds the cost, then the student gets up and goes to class. There are several important things to know about cost-benifit analysis. People as well as businesses consider only the cost and benefits that benefit them directly. If a student misses class and a quiz, the direct cost to the student is a lower grade. But there may be a cost to the class because fewer students in class affect the quality of the class discussion. The student doesn't consider the cost, only what affects him directly. Second, cost-benefit analysis is based on expected costs and benefits; the true costs and benefits can't be known until after the fact. Both businesses and individuals estimate what they think the costs and benefits will be to their decisions.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the main components of a wind turbine.
  • Determine the best locations in the United States for wind energy generation as well as the best season of the year for maximum wind power.
  • Discuss wind energy viability compared to conventional energy sources.
  • Investigate current efforts to encourage the use and implementation of wind turbines in their state.
  • Compare the costs and benefits of wind turbines to other forms of electrical generation.

Resource List

Process

[NOTE: Have your students print the following data retrieval chart and use the chart to record information that they will obtain as they work through the lesson. The data retrieval chart also has a decision making grid attached to the bottom. The rating provided on the chart is 4 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Your students will be asked to evaluate the information gathered and then to rate the provided sources of electrical power and then decided which sources rates the highest by totaling their ratings.]

Activity One:

Wind turbines are compound machines, modern versions of traditional windmills. To understand how they work, refer to the https://www.energy.gov/science-innovation/energy-sources/renewable-energy/wind site. Study the diagram under "Inside the Wind Turbine ." Read closely the terms in the wind turbine glossary and fill in the blanks below.

View Interactive Activity

Here are the answers for the flash activity:

  1. What is the definition of the term controller? [The controller starts up the machine at wind speeds of about 8 to 16 miles per hour [mph] and shuts off the machine at about 65 mph. Turbines cannot operate at wind speeds above about 65 mph because their generators could overheat.]
     
  2. What is the definition of the term tower? [Towers are made from tubular steel (shown here) or steel lattice. Because wind speed increases with height, taller towers enable turbines to capture more energy and generate more electricity.]
     
  3. What is the definition of the term anemometer? [An anemometer measures the wind speed and transmits wind speed data to the controller.]
     
  4. What is the definition of the term wind vane? [A wind vane measures wind direction and communicates with the yaw drive to orient the turbine properly with respect to the wind.]
     
  5. What is the minimum wind range required to start the turbine? [The minimum wind range required to start the turbine is 8-16 miles per hour.]
     
  6. Is there a maximum wind speed? If so, why? [The maximum wind speed is 65 miles per hour because at wind speeds above this, generators may overheat.]
     
  7. What part of the structural design is used to capture and generate more energy? [The tower is the part of the structural design used to capture and generate more energy.]
     
  8. Why is that part of the structural design used to capture and generate more energy? [The tower is used to capture and generate more energy because greater height offers access to increased wind speed.]
     
  9. Where are the "brains" in a wind turbine? [The anemometer supplies the necessary data concerning wind speed to the controller and the wind vane communicates wind direction to the yaw drive.]

For activities Two, Three, and Conclusion please refer to the Blowing in the Wind Worksheet. The worksheet should be printed out for the student to complete by following the directions listed below or on the worksheet itself.

Activity Two:

For activity two please refer to the Blowing in the Wind Worksheet. After reading from web page titled Quick Facts about Wind Energy , answer the following questions.

Here are the answers to Activity Two.

  1. How tall are the home-sized wind turbines? [Upwards of 30 feet] How tall are the largest wind turbines? [20 buildings high]. What is the connection between size of machine and power produced? [Larger machines produce more power]
  2. What are the major advantages of wind power over conventional energy generation? [Wind power is a renewable and nonpolluting energy source with a potentially lower cost than conventional energy sources]
  3. Specify major limitations or weaknesses , both economic and environmental, to wind power. [High initial investment due to machinery cost, possible noise pollution, birds can be killed by flying into rotors, wind does not always blow and wind power is not easy to store, often the best sites for wind power generation are often located in rural areas and energy must be transported]
  4. What happens to excess electricity generated by homeowners? [Homeowners can sell any excess power generated to their local public utility]

It is important to understand that, because wind is not available everywhere in sufficient quantity, wind energy may not be viable. Wind power is ranked from class 1 (the lowest) to class 7 (the highest). A class 3 or better wind is considered a good wind power resource. At class 3 average annual wind speed is at least 13 miles per hour.

Activity Three:

For activity three please refer to the Blowing in the Wind Worksheet. Refer to the https://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/maps.html#2-6 to answer the following questions.

Here are the answers to Activity Three.

  • Is the northern or southern part of the United States a more likely wind power source? [Northern]
  • Is the eastern or western part of the United States a more likely wind power source? [Western]

Locate your state on the regional summaries and look at the wind classification on the state map. Using the key, count the sites in your state designated 3 or higher.

  • Do you think your state is a good candidate for wind power production?
  • Looking at Map 2-1, what state appears to have the most wind power potential in terms of sites ranked class 3 or higher across the entire state? [North Dakota] Check your answer from the state maps under the regional summaries.
  • Based on seasonal variations on Maps 2-2, 2-3, 2-4 and 2-5, what season appears to be best in terms of wind energy generation? [Winter]
  • What season appears to be worst in wind energy generation? [Summer]

Conclusion

For the Conclusion please refer to the Blowing in the Wind Worksheet. The questions there are open-ended; they may help the students to reflect on the overall issue and lesson.

  • Does the United States appear to have good potential for wind energy generation?
  • What regions appear to have the greatest potential?
  • Why do you think there are not more wind power projects in the United States at this time?

Assessment

Class Discussion:

From your examination of wind energy potential, how would you classify the wind energy potential in your state? (low potential, average potential or high potential).
See what, if any, economic incentives have been provided by your state legislature. Is there any correlation in your state between economic incentives for wind energy projects and its wind energy potential? In other words, are more economic incentives provided if your state has high potential?

  • What are the economic incentives for wind-energy projects provided by your state legislature?
  • If there are no economic incentives provided for wind energy projects, what are the possible reasons for the lack of incentives?
  • If there are no economic incentives provided at this time, does it appear that the legislature might consider some in the future?
  • Do you think your state government should provide economic incentives for wind energy development? Why?
  • Do you think the federal government should provide economic incentives for wind energy? Why

[You may want to probe the student's ideas on questions such as: What would your state have to give up to utilize more wind power or what are the (perhaps only implied) incentives for a state to not use wind power? These are higher level questions that cane be used as a reflection tool.]