Using Energy Wisely

Energy issues keep showing up in the news. Science researchers, politicians, talk show hosts, and government officials discuss how much energy we use, where it comes from, and what using energy does to the environment. One thing is sure, using less energy can help a family spend less money and damage the environment less. Where does the energy we use come from? Can students do anything to use less energy? Here are a few ideas to get started.

Where does energy come from? 
A lot of the energy we use comes from petroleum, also called oil. Gasoline is made from petroleum. Propane is made from petroleum. Petroleum is a fossil fuel. That means it is brought up from under ground. It is the remains of tiny animals and algae that lived in the oceans millions of years ago. These were buried so that they did not rot away. Instead, they slowly changed, preserving their chemical energy. Once petroleum is pumped from the ground as crude oil, chemical refineries process it to make both fuels and chemicals for making things like plastics.

Electrical energy comes from electrical generators. A generator has a magnet or electromagnet and coils of wire. Some source of energy is used to power the blades of a turbine. The turbine turns the coils of wire past the magnets or the magnets past the coils of wire. This movement creates an electrical current. 

One way to turn the coils or magnets in a generator is to use a wind mill. The blades of the wind mill are the turbine. As the wind pushes the blades, the coils or magnets of the generator are turned. Instead of wind, running water can be used to power a turbine. This is how electricity is made at Niagara FallsWalk Through A Hydroelectric Project shows how a hydroelectricity plant at a dam works.

Steam can be used to turn a turbine. Sometimes coal is burned to make steam. Coal is another fossil fuel, this time land plants that were buried long ago so that they did not rot away. Sometimes a nuclear reactor is used to make the steam to turn a turbine to make electricity. A nuclear reactor is a very high technology method for heating water.

A third form of energy often used in homes and schools is natural gas. Natural gas is another fossil fuel that formed millions of years ago as buried plants did not rot away.

How can we use less energy?
There are two groups of energy saving actions, those that each student can do, and those that a group of people have to work together to do. The lists below will get you started. How many more ideas can you come up with?

What each student can do? What a group can do?
1. Turn it off. Turn the light off when you leave the room. Unplug any cell phone or other charger when it isn't actually charging something. Don't leave the hot water running. Set the computer to sleep or hibernate after 30 minutes of no use. Don't waste energy. 1. Decide to buy and use more energy efficient items. For example, compact fluorescent light bulbs use less energy than regular incandescent bulbs.
2. Close the door. Leaving an outside door open when the furnace or air conditioning is turned on is very wasteful. 2. Find out if better weather stripping and insulation is needed and how to get it installed.

3. Find out what temperature the building is kept at when people are there, when people are away, and during the night. Does the building need to be heated or cooled this much?

4. Try to cut down on gasoline use. Can trips to the store be combined with other errands? Can you walk or bike to get some places? Can you ride the bus or walk instead of being driven to school?

The Alliance to Save Energy has some helpful ideas on energy. The ESP's own What Students Can Do for the Environment page has some more conservation ideas.

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