Renewable Energy Technology: It Is Imperative That Current Students Become Aware of and Familiar with Emerging Renewable Energy Technologies and How These Technologies Will Continue to Influence Their Lives in the 21st Century

Article excerpt


A new energy era is upon us. As the landscape of energy technology use, exploration, and generation evolves rapidly to include renewable and "green" approaches, the technology education curriculum must be adapted to include additional levels of engagement in this technological frontier. The world's energy supply has long been dependent upon the use of fossil fuels, and nowhere is that fact more obvious and ominous than in the United States. Most political leaders in the United States and other energy-dependent nations have recognized the peril of continuing to extract a majority of energy resources from oil-rich nations and have begun investing heavily in renewable and sustainable alternatives. Martinot (2002) noted that current national trends are moving toward independence from foreign oil and declared that renewable energy has become the fastest growing energy technology in the world (p. 28). Similarly, Pimentel, et al (2002) suggested that new renewable energy technologies are being implemented in an effort to ease many of the problems that arise from the use of fossil fuels.

As energy technology advances to include more sustainable and renewable approaches, technology educators must develop curriculum and learning experiences that assist students in addressing energy problems, demands, and the technologies being proposed and implemented as potential solutions. Many of these technologies can be broadly categorized as renewable energy technologies. Renewable energy technologies are defined by the U.S. Department of Energy as energy derived from sources that can be continuously replenished (USDOE, 2009). These can include sources like the Sun, biomass, wind, hydro, and many others.

Open almost any newspaper today and one is likely to read stories addressing green technologies, sustainability, eco-friendly, carbon footprint, and a host of other terms used in the myriad fields of renewable energy technology. Brandt (2007) noted that commercial, industrial, and educational groups are adopting sustainable (or green) energy approaches ar an unprecedented rate. As these changes occur, it is important that technology education embrace these new technologies to provide students with access to the ever-changing field of renewable energy technology.

The Challenge

In many ways the field of renewable energy technology is being introduced to a society that has little knowledge or background with anything beyond traditional exhaustible forms of energy and power. Dotson (2009) noted that the real challenge is to inform and educate the citizenry of the renewable energy potential through the development of educational standards and new curriculum. While the technology education profession has been proactive in the development and proliferation of content standards that emphasize the importance of students developing an understanding of and ability to select and use energy and power technologies (ITEA, 2000/2002/2007), few suitable curriculum packages have been offered within the field. It is imperative that current students become aware of and familiar with emerging renewable energy technologies and how these technologies will continue to influence their lives in the 21st Century. McLaughlin (2008) noted that in order to stem the acceleration of global degradation, technological, social, and behavioral changes will need to take place among students. He further suggested that new curriculum and training will be needed to develop and maintain new alternative energy sources.

Although small-scale renewable energy technology projects can be implemented at most any school on a limited budget (one idea will be shared at the end of this article), there are a number of large-scale curriculum projects underway that can provide guidance. One such curriculum project was recently launched at the Center of Excellence in Renewable Energy Technology Education at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas through a grant from the Arkansas Department of Career Education, the U. …