• Looking for Energy

  • Looking for Energy

    Students will research energy sources, changes and consumption in the region, map it geographically, and learn to think about alternatives in their personal lives.


    During the course of several classroom meetings.

    Copies of map of our bioregion.

    We consume energy for heat, light, the manipulation of information, transportation and many other needs. The consumption of energy affects the water, the air, and the whole system of life. In the Upper Tennessee Valley most of our energy comes from TVA's coal power plants: 70.4%. Hydroelectric dams and pumped storage provides 15.4% and nuclear energy provides 14%.

    Energy from coal is very destructive to the environment. Some of the effects include: strip mining of the land, acid mine drainage, health effect to miners, acid rain, haze, carbon monoxide pollution; low-level ozone; thermal pollution of rivers; depletion of atmospheric oxygen; release of mercury, and other toxic metals, global warming, etc.

    Nuclear power plants routinely release small amounts of radioactive materials into the air and the water. Low level radioactive waste consists of items such as filters, tools, plastic shoes covers, etc. High level radioactive waste consists mostly of spent fuel rods (uranium). TVA produces 115 metric tons of used fuel per year. Most of the radioactivity subdues within several months, but the waste remains deadly to humans for tens of thousands of years.

    Hydroelectric generation is TVA's cleanest and cheapest source of energy. However, the damming of the rivers has transformed the swift flowing Tennessee from a river in a collection of reservoirs. The dams deprive the deep waters of oxygen. As a result most of the dammed tributaries are less productive fisheries than they once were, and many of species of fish have declined, while exotic species have moved in. Further siltation of the reservoirs makes the situation unsustainable in the long term, while agricultural areas are permanently submerged.

    1. Team Research Assignment
    Assign students in little teams. Let the teams research and map energy in the region. This can be done through the following questions:
    1. Where are the energy producers located (sources)?
    2. Where is the energy consumed (users) ?
    Place this information on a map, using visual keys.
    Furthermore, let them find out the following:
    3. How is energy used? (consumption pattern)
    4. How much renewable energy and nonrenewable energy sources are used for production for fuels and electricity. Include in this the rate of use.
    5. What are the implications for the availability of these resources over time?
    6. What has been the role of the Tennessee Valley Authority in our consumption pattern?

    2. Discussion
    Let every team briefly present its findings. Discuss the following implications:

  • What is the overall relation between non-renewable and renewable resources?
  • What are/have been the changes over time in the use of non-renewable and renewable resources?
  • What is the impact of use of some renewable and nonrenewable resources for fuel and electricity where these resources were previously used for other products and purposes? (for example, the damming of the Tennessee River)
  • What are the economic implications of such changes and possible social costs and benefits, including costs to the environment?
  • What are the global implications of such changes?
  • What barriers exist that keep renewable resources from being introduced?
  • What strategies can be designed to change the ratio between renewable an nonrenewable resources in the Valley?

    Additional Activities 1:
    Let the teams generate a list of possible new sources of energy for fuel and electricity purposes. Let them go into the community and find out which people and organizations promote renewable resources. If possible arrange a class excursion. Let them find local speakers to present information to the class. Brainstorm about other alternatives that could be invented to produce clean sustainable energy. New approaches to producing and using energy might fall into two categories:
    1. new sources
    2. utilization procedures for new and present resources, including conservation techniques.
    Further categorization of the responses is possible according to the most likely uses: for example, private homeowners, apartment dwellers, factories, government office buildings, transportation, etc.

    Additional Activities 2:
    Create a map of energy uses in different part of the countries and the world. Each team could be assigned to focus on a different geographic place. What kind of energy sources do foreign countries use to supply electricity and fuel? Is there a difference in the amount of energy used per capita between the different countries? What is the difference between poor and rich countries?

    Additional Activities 3:
    To focus more on the individual level and behavior patterns toward the use of energy, let each team generate a list of "Things We Can Do Today?" Discuss with the whole group the different things the teams came up with and compile a final list. Let each team choose five activities they will be living by for at least the following week. At the end of the week, bring out the lists-and engage in a class discussion of what happened. This might include:

  • How easy was it to do the things on the list?
  • Did all the team members experience the same difficulties?
  • Did other people notice the efforts? how did they react?
  • What are the possible positive results of the actions?
  • What are the possible negative results of the actions?
  • What would be the long term effects of the actions if done at an extended period of time? And what if all people would do the same?
  • What strategies can be used to get others involved and excited?