[GRID.Sub.C] Renewable Energy Data Streaming into Classrooms: [GRID.Sub.C] Gives Students the Opportunity to Work with Real-Time Data While Teaching Them How to Think Critically and to Compare, Analyze, and Effectively Use Data in Problem Solving

Article excerpt

Using [GRID.sub.C] renewable energy data, students learn how to think critically in a data-rich environment while learning about renewable energy sources and appreciating the value of such sources.


For years, researchers have shown the value of using real-world data to enhance instruction in mathematics, science, and social studies (Drier, Dawson & Garofalo, 1999; Gordin, Polman & Pea, 1994). In an effort to help develop students' higher-order thinking skills in a data-rich learning environment, Green Research for Incorporating Data in the Classroom ([GRID.sub.C]), a National Science Foundation-funded project, has installed an extensive renewable energy data acquisition system that provides teachers and students with a living laboratory for teaching and learning integrated scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical concepts.

The publicly available data is collected from renewable energy technologies at the North Carolina Solar House located on the campus of North Carolina State University (NCSU), averaged over 15 minutes, and uploaded to the Internet where daily, monthly, and yearly information can be viewed graphically or downloaded in a spreadsheet form. The data is currently being used in the development of instructional units designed for engineering, teacher education, and construction technologies.

The [GRID.sub.C] project has developed curriculum to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts using the renewable energy data. The project enhances instruction and improves learning while addressing a highly relevant social issue: renewable energy. President Obama (2009) stressed the importance of renewable energy in his Joint Session of Congress Address, citing that "the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st Century." The project gives aspiring engineers and scientists a data-rich resource to study these renewable energy systems.

This article provides a step-by-step guide to obtaining the [GRID.sub.C] renewable energy data, along with a sample activity describing how the data may be used in the classroom.

Data Acquisition System The core of the [GRID.sub.C] data acquisition system is located at the NC Solar House on the NCSU campus. The NC Solar House first opened to the public in 1981 and is today one of the most visible and visited solar buildings in the United States.

The NC Solar House incorporates readily available solar and energy-efficient technologies to demonstrate how those technologies can be effectively incorporated into a typically designed house. Some key features of the Solar House include a centrally located sunspace, two thermal storage walls, an active solar hot water system, a photovoltaic system, solar tubes, a geothermal heat pump, earth berming, natural architectural shading devices, and energy-efficient appliances. The sunspace provides passive solar heating, with 232 square feet of glazing to allow heat to enter and about 700 square feet of thermal mass to collect and store the heat for when it is needed. With an electric backup, the solar water-heating system was designed to supply approximately 65 to 70 percent of hot water for a family of three or four. A drainback system, where water in the solar collector loop drains back to a smaller tank when not in use, is used with a 4-foot x 8-foot solar collector and a wrap-around heat exchanger water tank. The NC Solar House also boasts a 5.4-kilowatt SunPower photovoltaic system, partially funded by the [GRID.sub.C] project.

In addition to the Solar House, numerous other technological advancements are on the grounds to exhibit renewable energy technologies. An alternative fuel vehicle demonstration facility provides information on alternative fuels and vehicles including ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, hydrogen, and electric. One of the primary technological features is the 48-volt, 3-kW photovoltaic integrated standing seam metal roof that can produce hydrogen for a fuel cell stack with DC power through an electrolyzer or convert the electricity to AC power for building use or exporting to the utility grid. …