Renewable Energy and the National Energy Policy 

A WebQuest for 9th Grade Algebra

Designed by

Larry Ehnert  


Introduction | Task | Process | Evaluation | Conclusion | Credits | Teacher Page


There is a big debate going on right now in Washington DC about the future energy policy for the nation.  One of the first jobs that vice-president Cheney did was to propose a new national energy policy, and now the Senate and House are debating exactly how to impliment a new policy.  What would you do and how would you vote on some of the issues related to the new energy bill? 

Energy policy came to the forefront of the nation's attention when the OPEC nations halted oil exports to the United States back in the 70's.  Since that time wars have been fought, laws have been passed, environmental issues have been debated, and many technological advancements have been made to help keep adequate energy supplies available to the United States.   This webquest asks you to look at some of the issues associated with energy supply and demand and also to learn about what role energy from some renewable sources might play in helping meet the demand for electrical energy.

The Task

In working through this webquest you will need to do the following tasks:

  • i nvestigate the current and historical supply and demand of oil;
  • understand what are current issues involved in formulating a national energy policy;
  • decide how you would vote on some of the controversial elements of the proposed national energy bill;
  • learn about what renewable energy sources are being developed, how they work, and what their strengths and weaknesses are;
  • Learn the details of different renewable systems for producing electricity;
  • calculate the electrical demand of your household;
  • design a renewable energy system for your household based on certain design critera;
  • calculate a payback time for the system you design.

You will use the internet to help you learn background information and learn about specific renewable energy systems.  You will need to use a spreadsheet to help design your household system. 

The Process

Go To:  Step 1Step 2Step 3Step 4Step 5

Step 1.
You will be partnered up with another student and you must first flip a coin to determine one person that will present each side of the arguement about the availability (or shortage) of oil.  One person will present information trying to argue that there is plenty of available oil and that an energy policy should help expand production.  The other person will argue that there is an impending shortage of oil and that an energy policy should help conserve oil and develop alternative sources of energy. 

You each will need to make a 5-10 minute presentation to the class to support your side of the issue.  Some of the topics that should probably be addressed in your presentation include:

  • The Hubbert Curve
  • Oil Production 
  • Oil use in the United States and around the world
  • Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards
  • Global warming and CO2 emissions
  • Pollution and Environmental impact of using oil
  • Drilling in ANWR and other possible locations

    Some useful web sites that have a wealth of information regarding oil supply and demand include the following:

If you have never heard of O.P.E.C. or the 1973 oil embargo you can get a quick introduction here at Dowling's Electronic Passport

For information about the current debate in Congress and to learn about the current state of nation's energy supply and demand; as well as for general background information about energy and to read the National Energy policy use these links.
National Energy Policy - Senate prepares to debate energy bill - March 3, 2002   The CNN link will lead to other news stories on the current energy debate.

Two places that are good starting points in the arguement that there is a shortage of oil are below.  The sites also have links to the opposing view and are generally full of energy-related information.

The Coming Global Energy Crisis  
NPG Academia Series: Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis by Dr. Albert Bartlett  

Two places to that argue there is no shortage of oil are at the following sites.

An article in Forbes magazine about how conservation is driven by increased economic efficiency.
The M.I.T. Technology Review magazine has an article Getting Over Oil  

Step 2.

You need to work with your partner to summarize the various forms of renewable energy sources available today.  You should concentrate on electrical energy sources, however you may include other fuel sources.

Some of the sources you should be sure to investigate include:

  • Hydro electric
  • Biomass and other Biofuels
  • Geothermal
  • Wind
  • Solar electric
  • Solar heat
  • Hydrogen

Your summary of these renewable sources of energy should include:

The basics of how they work.
The current useage or availability of the source.
The history of the development of the source.
The potential for the energy source.
The recent developments in trying to improve the energy source.

You should prepare a 1 page summary for each of the energy sources you investigate.  The summary could have text, graphics, images, or web links to help the summary.


The CREST institute has information about renewable energy but the National Renewable Energy Lab is a better place to start on your quest to learn about these sources of energy.

The company called Real Goods has a wealth of information about renewable energy.  You will probably want to keep this website in mind for when you want to actually purchase a system in Step 5.

Step 3.

Learn about the basics of home energy use and how electrical energy use is measured.  Each of you should work independently to calculate the average electrical energy use as well as peak power requirement for your home.  Use an electrical cost of $.08 per KWhr to calculate the electricity cost for your home; or better yet find the actual cost of electricity from your local electrical utility.

Make a spreadsheet that lists the average energy use and the peak power demand for your home.

Resouces :

If you don't know a killowatt from a millivolt start with the basics of electricity.  You need to scroll down to the bottom of this website , but then you will get everything you need to know about how to determine your home energy use.

Public services of New Hampshire has some tools on its website to help with energy calculations.

The home energy saver website will give energy costs depending on your zip code.


Step 4.

Investigate in-depth one of the renewable sources of energy that you could use to generate a portion of your electrical demand.  Learn how that system works and the different options that a system might have.

There is more information about wind and solar systems than any other system so you might want to focus on one of those two systems.  However, if your home has a unique situation that might best use one of the other methods, dig into that alternative and learn how it works.

I will interview you about the system you choose and you should be prepared to answer questions along the following lines:

How does your system generate electricity?
What are basic differences between different types of the same system?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your system?
What factors affect the performance of your system?
Why is your system best for your application?

Now that you have an understading of the issues and about some possible solutions, send an email to your Congressional Representative or your Senator giving your opinion about what should be done with regards to the United State's energy policy.  You can find the email address of your elected official at the government new website:  (just started in March, 2002)


More Specific information on solar photovoltaic systems is availabe from the following websites.

MySolar; information on solar energy and solar systems, including prices
Sandia's photovoltaic systems project;
US Department of Energy PV Home Page
Solarbuzz: Portal to the World of Solar Energy

Manufacturers of solar systems have more specific information about how their individual products work.

Welcome to AstroPower!
Bekaert ECD Solar Systems
Siemens Solar panels and PV photovoltaics Home page
Photovoltaics, Solar Power & Solar Energy - Kyocera Solar, Inc.

More specific information on how wind generators operate can be found at the following websites:

Dear Lou explains the physics of wind generators
A list of manufacturers of wind generators is here.
There is even an Alaskan source for purchasing wind generator equipment.  The even have complete systems which will show you exactly what is needed to generate power from wind or solar.

A good source for starting to learn about wind powered generators is at The Mayflower Trading Company .  They also have information about Solar systems.

Step 5.
Design a system to meet a portion of your electrical energy needs.

There is always a tradeoff in any design such as:

  • A bigger system will produce more energy but will cost more.
  • A system that is alternating current will work with more applicances but requires an invertor.
  • Batteries will store energy for the "rainy day" but more batteries cost more money.
  • A permanent installation is more secure but can't be transferred to a new home.

You will have to decide what is important to you in a renewable energy system and get the components depending upon your priorities.  It would be useful for you to discuss the various issues with your partner.

Create a drawing of your system that shows all the components.  Create a spreadsheet that lists each component, cost, and source.

Use the electricity cost from step 3 to calculate how long before the system pays for itself.  Don't be too shocked if it turns out to be a very long time.

  A good start for what you need to think about in designing a renewable energy system is in the tips for "Clean Energy Choices: Tips on Buying and USing Renewable Energy at Home

One thing that certainly affects the design of your system is the weather where you live.  The website at  NSRDB has weather data for you to consider.
If you live in a state that will pay you for your excess energy, you might want to consider installing a Utility Intertie .  It might also take the place of batteries in your design.
You will have to visit the retailers of renewable energy equipment in order to see how much this stuff costs.

The Source for Renewable Energy
Real Goods - Your Renewable Power Partner


Each of you will be graded individually based on the following rubric.  You will be able to do much more work and get a higher grade by working with your partner and sharing the information.











Presentation on the current debate regarding energy policy


presentation that only includes talking to class.  Only addresses 1 or 2 points.

presentation addresses 3 to 5 points.  Includes 1 multimedia item in the presentation. 

Presentation uses multiple charts and graphs and other data sources to argue the issue.

Original conclusions are made or arguements presented based on many sources of information and addresses opposing sides arguements.

summarize renewable energy sources


3 or less types of renewable energy with the basics of how each works.

4 to 6 types of energy sources with the basics of how they work.  Include current energy production for each type.

Present recent developments in the energy systems.  Describe what is needed to increase their implementation.

Describe the relative strengths and weaknesses of each system.  Describe unique circumstances where one system would be better than another.

create a home energy use plan.


understands the difference between power and energy.  Can do a simple kWhr calculation.

Cam calculate the cost of a certain amount of electricity.

Can determine average energy and power at one point in time.

Can determine the different energy and power values for different months.  Describes the loads that cause different demands.

Plan a renewable energy system that could be purchased to provide a portion of your home electrical energy needs.


System design has price and source information for the basic generating component.

System design includes components for a complete system based on simple energy demand.

System design considers peak power demand.  System will use battery or other stoarge to meet power requirements for high load conditions and times of no generating capabilities

System design includes justification based on weather and seasonal data.

send email to elected official concerning national energy policy. email discusses 1 issue and is well-written email discusses 2 issues and is well-written email discusses 3 issues and is well-written email discusses 4 issues and is well-written 


It is probably difficult, right now, to justify spending a lot of money on a renewable energy system.  However, if you are considering a new home or cabin someplace that is "off the grid" it might be a feasible option.  The situation is very dependent upon what the price of oil is and what it might be in the future.  For many years there have been predictions of a major energy shortage, yet it has still not evolved.  There are many issues to think about when, or if, the United States needs to reduce the amount of energy derived from oil. 

Credits & References

Description or title of image. [Online image] Available http://address/filename REMOTE , date of document, image, or download.


Hubble Space Telescope Release in the Space Shuttle’s Payload Bay. [Online image] Available , October 23, 1998.

The images on the top of this page. 

Oil Tanker at Sea. [Online image] Available from ,November 4, 2001.

Oil Rigs Working. [Online image] Available from , November 8, 2000.

Hubbert Curve of Oil Production. [Online image] Available from , 1994-2002.

Photovoltaic Solar Array. [Online image] Availabe from March 1, 2000.

Last updated on August 15, 1999. Based on a template from The WebQuest Page