Energy Use

ENERGY USE begins by inviting students to take an inventory of the ways that they use electricity. By “following the wires” back to a power plant, and from there to a grid of all power plants in the country, your students will begin to grasp the vast infrarstructure that supports our way of life. Through laboratory experiments they will learn the basic principles on which electrical devices work; and through a brief history, they will learn how our national energy policy came to be. They will also learn about the huge amounts of Earth materials that are used for transportation, home heating, and industry on a daily basis, and the small fraction of that energy that is actually put to use. In the last portion of the unit your students will conduct simple experiments in which they discover that conservation will allow us to maintain our current levels of energy usage while saving billions of dollars and reducing our impact on the environment. They will also explore new technologies for satisfying the energy needs of a growing human population while keeping the impact of energy use to a minimum.

Table of Contents

Resources for Energy Use

National Renewable Energy Laboratory – – also The Solutions Project – 
…specific plans, by locale, for energy mixes that are 100% renewable energy.

Alternative Fuels


Conservation and Recycling

4 July 2005. Recycler takes TVs for free.

Program reimburses businesses and cities for disposing of computer monitors and television sets. By Clint Swett — Sacramento Bee Staff Writer. It wasn’t that long ago that getting rid of a computer monitor or television was often a cumbersome and costly ordeal. Laden with pounds of toxic lead, the cathode ray tubes that are the heart of such devices were unwelcome at garbage dumps and expensive to recycle. Computer companies like Dell and Hewlett-Packard offered programs for sending monitors back to the company for recycling, but shipping charges were often $30 and higher. Or you could haul computers and TVs to a local landfill, as long as you were willing to pay drop-off fees that often were $25 or more. It’s no wonder than an estimated 6 million old TVs and monitors in California are gathering dust as their owners search for easy and inexpensive ways to get rid of them. Recently, though, the dynamic has changed. One local company, Appliance Distribution of Sacramento, now accepts monitors, TVs and other electronic devices at its North B Street facility at no charge. The Western Placer Waste Management Authority in Roseville recently scrapped its $12 fee on monitors and a $25 fee on larger TVs; now drop-offs are free. Sacramento County has 14 recycling spots, three more than a year ago, for the cathode ray tubes, or CRTs.

Spring 2004. Home Repo, by Dan Rademacher. Terrain magazine–Ecology Center, Berkeley, CA. the tide of two-by-fours, one house at a time. …At Beyond Waste, a Sonoma County deconstruction and flooring operation, Pavitra Krimmel and her crew have attacked the problem head-on: to get recycled lumber for their flooring and other projects, they’ve actually taken to disassembling buildings themselves when developers intend to tear them down. “We realized that the only way to get usable lumber was to take buildings apart ourselves,” she says. “As if we knew how to do that.” —… Changing the value of waste is the life’s work of Dan Knapp, the sociologist who founded Urban Ore, Berkeley’s landmark building reuse center. In fact, he doesn’t call it waste; he calls it the “discard supply.” … “We have tons of contractors who come to us,” Knapp says. “They’re saving on dump fees, and they like our policy of trade credits. We’re like their garage. They bring it to us, because we organize it.” …Urban Ore is a prime example of reuse-goods like bathtubs and doors are sold and reused in a new house….

Fall, 2002. OnEarth The Deconstructionists, by Carolyn Szczepanski In a Portland, Oregon, suburb, the six-man crew of DeConstruction, Inc., enters a three-bedroom house and, with hammers and crowbars, starts tearing the place apart. The cabinets and carpet are first to go. Then the doors are unhinged and the hardwood floors pulled up. Over the next week, the whole structure, windows to light fixtures to lumber, will be hauled out onto the lawn, sorted, and stacked. But unlike the wreckage generated by 95 percent of demolition jobs across the country, this stuff isn’t headed for the landfill. It will be resold at a discount rate, making a profit for the company and contributing almost nothing to the estimated 65 million tons of waste that traditional U.S. demolition companies send to the dump every year.

Fall 2002, OnEarth, p. 21. Wasting Away, by Gretel H. Schueller – Is recycling on the skids?

Funding Factory Schools can earn free technology, sports & recreation equipment, playground systems or even cash by simply collecting and recycling items such as empty inkjet & laser cartridges and old cell phones

Junk mail reduction strategies:
-contact company directly by going to its website or calling customer service to request they not send you catalogs or mail of any sort
-get on the “do not mail” list by writing to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512 or registering online

Electric Vehicles- Electric Bikes

Fuel Cells


  • November 1989. Cold Fusion Research. A Report of the Energy Research Advisory Board to the United States by Department of Energy Washington, DC 20585 — DOE/S-0073 DE90 005611, Internet Edition Prepared by National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS) District of Columbia – Maryland – Virginia (USA)
  • Cold Fusion–LENR– — a library of papers on LENR, Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, also known as Cold Fusion. (CANR, Chemically Assisted Nuclear Reactions, is another term for this phenomenon.) It features a library of more than 280 original scientific papers in Acrobat format, reprinted with permission from the authors and publishers. [Note: this site FAVORS the research on LENR, whereas many scientists scoff at cold fusion as bunk.] For a different view, see article.
  • General Atomics Fusion Educational Outreach

Biodegradable plasticware


  • America’s ‘Virtual’ Farm — Teaching Teachers about..Remote Sensing, Agriculture, and Problem-based Learning This web-based course is designed for practicing teachers interested in integrating remote-sensing technology and problem-based learning (PBL) into the curriculum. The course content uses agricultural themes throughout the lessons as the vehicle for teaching the integration of technology and PBL.
  • Precision Farming — to improve farmers’ profits and harvest yields while reducing the negative impacts of farming on the environment that come from over-application of chemicals.
  • 25 February 2002. Researchers Seek To Squeeze Rubber Out Of Sunflowers
  • Farmer’s Markets — Locally Grown Food

GREEN COMMUNITIES-STUDENTS AND SUSTAINABILITY — From EPA, This page is designed for teachers who wish to introduce the concepts of sustainability into their classrooms. The site has a variety of individual or group education resources, especially science fairs. Subjects include stream ecology, brown fields, endangered species, energy, international development, non-point pollution sources, and much more. The site separates these resources into three categories: K-8, 9-12, and teacher references.

Home Energy



  • Air Quality
  • Dry cleaning alternative: wet cleaners – green alternative to dry cleaners
  • Eco-Friendly Products
  • Junk Mail–Stop Junk Mail Kit
  • Scorecard for Pollution – Web site where you can enter a zip code and it will tell you pollution characteristics of that local community.
  • Water Quality
    • Fall 2006. Drugging Our Waters, by Elizabeth Royte. NRDC: OnEarth. How An Aging Population And Our Growing Addiction To Pharmaceuticals May Be Poisoning Our Rivers. Excerpt: …The 120 residents of River Glen Health Care Center, where the average age is 90, take an average of eight drugs a day; the most common among them target high cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes. Once swallowed, Reilly’s medications will bring her some relief, but their biological activity won’t stop once they leave her body. When residents of Heritage Village and two other nearby retirement communities flush their toilets, wastewater laced with traces of prescription drugs rushes through a series of pipes into the Heritage Village treatment plant. This flushing is the main pathway by which pharmaceuticals enter the environment. Hospitals and nursing homes routinely dump unused or expired pills down the toilet, and consumers have been advised to do the same; effluent from pharmaceutical manufacturers also ends up at municipal wastewater treatment plants. …Americans now fill more than three billion prescriptions a year; nationwide, more than 10 million women take birth-control pills, and about the same number are on hormone-replacement therapy. …Our rivers — already stressed by pollutants, groundwater pumping, reduced flows, and overburdened wastewater treatment plants that dump raw sewage — will be ever less able to cope. …In 2002, the USGS published the results of its first-ever reconnaissance of man-made contaminants. …the agency found traces of 82 different organic contaminants — fertilizers and flame retardants as well as pharmaceuticals — in surface waters across the nation. These drugs included natural and synthetic hormones, antibiotics, antihypertensives, painkillers, and antidepressants. …What does this mean for the environment, and what does it mean for us? … Marc Taylor is the medical director of the River Glen Health Care Center…. “I’m concerned about pharmaceuticals in the river because I am a doctor,” says Taylor, who speaks in precisely measured sentences, “and because I know these drugs are bioactive.” That is, they can enter the bioprocesses of aquatic organisms. … Taylor, like many health-care professionals, thinks a good first step for getting drugs out of waterways is to persuade hospitals and nursing homes to abandon their policy of flushing unused drugs down the toilet. A handful of states and municipalities have launched pharmaceutical take-back programs, in which consumers bring unwanted or expired medications to an official collection site. Drugs are then either returned to manufacturers or disposed of by incineration.
    • Basel Action Network
    • Hazmat (hazardous materials)-trained scuba diver, Tim Nelson … makes a living plunging into heavily polluted rivers. … forty years’ worth of decaying and deadly PCB-filled electrical equipment, the forgotten remains of an old Army Corps landfill… lay 60 feet underwater…
    • Mercury Thermometers and Your Family’s Health
    • Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
  • Pollution Articles
    • March 2005. The Dangers of Modern Art. Green Tips from Union of Concerned Scientists. Some art supplies contain ingredients that are harmful to both humans and the environment. These include naturally occurring heavy metals such as lead, cobalt, cadmium, and manganese, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as turpentine, xylene, acetone, and toluene. So, how can you express yourself creatively while protecting the environment?
    • 24 August 2004. E.P.A. Says Mercury Taints Fish Across U.S. By MICHAEL JANOFSKY, NY Times. The federal environmental agency’s latest annual survey of fish advisories showed that 48 states – all but Wyoming and Alaska – issued warnings about mercury last year.
    • 30 September 2003. Observations of a “weekend effect” in diurnal temperature range, Piers M. de F. Forster and Susan Solomon , National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aeronomy Laboratory, Boulder, CO 80305; and Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AH, United Kingdom. Using surface measurements of maximum and minimum temperatures from the Global Daily Climatological Network data set, we find evidence of a weekly cycle in diurnal temperature range (DTR) for many stations in the United States, Mexico, Japan, and China….We conclude that the weekend effect is a real short time scale and large spatial scale geophysical phenomenon, which is necessarily human in origin. We thus provide strong evidence of an anthropogenic link to DTR, an important climate indicator. Several possible anthropogenic mechanisms are discussed; we speculate that aerosol-cloud interactions are the most likely cause of this weekend effect, but we do not rule out others. PNAS | vol. 100 | no. 20 | 11225-11230.
    • 21 March 2001. E.P.A. to Abandon New Arsenic Limits for Water Supply (NY Times)
    • 9 January 2001. Trees And Air Pollution. Australia’s native plants emit chemical compounds that can interact with other air pollutants to exacerbate smog formation over Australian cities, researchers have found.

Socially Responsible Investing

  • December 2004. GREENTIPS – Socially Responsible Investing – Many people do their part for the environment by driving a fuel-efficient car, buying organic foods, or using energy-efficient appliances. You can also promote environmental values through socially responsible investing (SRI), also known as “green” investing. SRI gives corporations an incentive to improve their environmental stewardship and can also provide investors with a more secure financial future-a “double bottom line.”

Solar Energy

  • American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is a national organization dedicated to advancing the use of solar energy for the benefit of U.S. citizens and the global environment.
  • Companies: Solar and Solar-Related
  • Cookers and ovens (solar) — Solar Cookers International (SCI) – Establishes programs in countries around the world to teach people to make and use solar ovens and cookers. Reduces deforestation and saves time for cultures that normally would gather wood for cooking fires. Reduces carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emission in cultures that normally use natural gas or electricity for cooking. See SCI Newsletters
  • Kyoto USA – assists California school districts reduce their energy consumption and to install renewable energy systems. Also promotes Community Choice Aggregation programs that allow local governments to procure electricity on behalf of businesses and residents.
  • National Council for Solar Growth –
  • Northern California Solar Energy Association
  • Rising Sun Energy Center – Founded in 1994 as a renewable energy education center, provides green training, employment, and residential efficiency evaluations. Headquartered in Berkeley, serves Northern California.
  • – Texas-based organization that provides lots of information on solar energy, green energy, and inexpensive energy.
  • Solar Catalyst Group
  • Solar Living Institute conducts Sustainable Living Workshops, runs the Solar Living Center in Hopland, California, and SolFest, an annual weekend educational celebration. Also has online newsletter at
  • Solar Cells
    • March 29, 2002 (By Reuters) WASHINGTON. Cheap, plastic solar cells that can be painted onto just about any surface could provide power for a range of portable and even wearable electronic devices, scientists said Thursday. A team at the University of California Berkeley said they had come up with a first generation of plastic solar cells, which could someday replace the bulky and expensive silicon-based cells used widely now. “Our efficiency is not good enough yet by about a factor of 10, but this technology has the potential to do a lot better,” Paul Alivisatos, a professor of chemistry who led the study…
  • Solar Schoolhouse –
  • Solar Suitcases –  – provide solar energy systems (medical lighting, mobile communication and essential medical devices) to health facilities in areas without reliable electricity. A basic Solar Suitcase has solar panels, LFP battery, two medical LED lights, charge controller, mounting hardware, and standard accessories (costs $1705 with bulk discounts available for NGOs).