Target Grade Level / Age Range:

Grades 9-12


50 minutes


By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Describe what renewable energy is and how renewable energies can be generated.
  2. Describe the need for renewable energy.


  • String, yarn, or twine
  • Tape
  • Computers of tablets with internet access.

Suggested Companion Resources


  • Renewable Energy: naturally occurring energy sources that are quickly regenerated and do not pollute the environment
  • Biomass: plant matter

Interest Approach or Motivator

Prior to class, print each of these terms on a piece of paper. Hang the source of energy on one side of the classroom with a piece of string, twine or yarn. Hang the type of energy on the opposite side of the room. Have students use the string to match the source to the type of energy. If possible, do this activity high above the student’s heads so you can leave it in place throughout the lesson and refer back to it as needed.


Type of Energy


Solar Power


Wind Power




Biomass fuels


Biogas fuels


Geothermal energy



Objective 1: Describe what renewable energy is and how renewable energies can be generated.

Have students capture the following information into their notes using slides 2-7 in the accompanying PowerPoint.

Solar: Solar energy can be used to heat water for dairies, air for grain drying, and provide remote electricity. Over 8,000 American farms are producing and using solar energy, with installations in every state. Just 20 days of sunshine-based energy is equal to all of the energy stored in the earth’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Wind: There are about 2,000 wind turbines owned and operated by farmers and ranchers in the U.S.   (Excludes commercial wind farms.) Wind power was the dominant source of renewable energy capacity added in the U.S last year and is the fastest growing new source of electricity in America. New wind projects completed in 2008 accounted for approximately 46 percent of the total new electricity capacity added nationally, including both renewables and fossil fuels. Leasing small plots of land for wind turbines offers farmers and other landowners a lucrative new source of income at no additional cost and with no sacrifice of crop acreage. Based on an average land lease price of $3,500 per MW of installed wind capacity, these land leases could generate more than $500 million in revenue in 2020.

Water: Hydropower can be scaled down to generate electricity from small rivers, streams, and even irrigation canals.

Plants: Plant matter (biomass) can be used to generate electricity and heat, or it can be refined into liquid fuels. A major source of new farm revenue will come from the sale of crop wastes as bioenergy feedstocks. Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimâtes, 100 million dry tons of corn stover and other agricultural residues could be harvested sustainably on U.S. farms in the year 2020. At a market price of $50 per dry ton, and with safeguards like no-till farming in place to manage the risk of increased soil erosion from crop waste removal, farmers could earn roughly $4 billion in annual profits, once cost savings from reduced fuel and water use are factored in.

Animals: Animal waste can be processed through anaerobic digestion to capture methane for electrical generation and farm heating. Methane digesters on American farms are producing about half a million MWh each year. Livestock farmers can meet on-farm needs for natural gas and electricity with biogas recaptured from animal waste—at the same time earning “offset” credits from cutting harmful methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that biogas recovery systems on large livestock farms could generate up to 6 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year. If just half this potential is realized, biogas would offset roughly 7 percent of the agricultural sector’s electricity consumption in 2020 with a resulting cost savings of approximately $190 million. The sale of offsets could add another $60 million of income in 2020 and farmers can make even more money selling surplus electricity into the grid.

Geothermal: Underground geothermal energy can be used to heat air and water, or even power generators. Geothermal energy uses the near-constant heat of the earth for thermal heating and cooling needs. Electricity can even be produced where hot enough reserves are accessible.

It is time to summarize the information into a 30 second report. The challenge is to select one of the sources of energy and summarize it into a report similar to a weather report. You will briefly mention how energy can be produced and what the future potential is. You will have five minutes to script your weather report and get it ready to be delivered to the class. You will work with a partner to develop the report.

As time allows, have students stand up and present their 30 second report. Provide a prop microphone if available.

Objective 2: Describe the need for renewable energy.

Why is renewable energy important? Have students individually jot down as many reasons as they can think of why it is important to include renewable energy as a part of a holistic energy plan. Give students three minutes to think individually. Ask students to share their ideas with a partner. Instruct them to explain their reasoning to their partner. Give them three minutes to discuss in pairs.

Ask each pair to share one reason they thought it was important to use renewable energy. Elicit varied responses from pairs trying not to repeat answers. Capture responses on the board or other large writing surface.

Discuss the following reasons and have students capture them in their notes if they have not already been discussed.

There are many important reasons for using renewable energy including:

  • Economics
  • Food Security
  • National Security
  • Energy Independence
  • Environmental Protection
  • Health Concerns from Pollution

There has been a dramatic increase in world energy consumption

  • Our energy choices have direct implications for our health, our environment, and our climate.
  • Right now we are largely dependent on coal and other fossil fuels for most of our electricity needs.
  • Power generation is a leading cause of air pollution and is the single largest source of U.S. global warming emissions. 
  • Renewable energy resources like wind and solar power generate electricity with little to no pollution or global warming emissions—and could reliably provide up to 40 percent of U.S. electricity needs within the next 20 years.

Have students logon to the website: . Have students complete the worksheet to discover what renewable energy Iowa has the most potential for.


Have students watch the video Careers in Renewable Energy. Have students list as many jobs as they can that are related to renewable energy.

Worksheet answer key:

  1. Class 3-5 wind
  2. Eastern part of the state – specifically river valleys that lead to the Mississippi River.
  3. Clayton, Keokuk, Kossuth, Plymouth, Tama, Woodbury
  4. 523,895 thousand tonnes/yr
  5. Dickinson
  6. NE
  7. Approximately 6,800 Wh/m2/day
  8. No
  9. Des Moines River and/or Mississippi River and/or Missouri River
  10. 1,218 Kw

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)



Will Fett

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes


  • Theme 1: Agriculture and the Environment
    • Describe resource and conservation management practices used in agricultural systems (e.g., riparian management, rotational grazing, no till farming, crop and variety selection, wildlife management, timber harvesting techniques)
    • Discuss the value of agricultural land
    • Evaluate the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture
  • Theme 4: STEM
    • Identify current and emerging scientific discoveries and technologies and their possible use in agriculture (e.g., biotechnology, bio-chemical, mechanical, etc.)
    • Predict the types of careers and skills agricultural scientists will need in the future to support agricultural production and meet the needs of a growing population
  • Theme 5: Culture, Society, Economy and Geography
    • Discuss the relationship between geography (climate and land), politics, and global economies in the distribution of food

Education Content Standards


  • SS.9–12.G.1: Essential Concept and/or Skill: Understand the use of geographic tools to locate and analyze information about people, places, and environments.

Common Core Connections

  • SL.9-10.IA.5: Prepare and conduct interviews.
  • SL.9–10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.