Energy Sources

Technological systems would not be possible without energy, work, and power. Although it is common to hear these terms used interchangeably in conversation, each is different and crucial to creating, using, or maintaining a technological system.


Most power used today is stored or made available when needed. In the past, power that was created was often used immediately. A windmill might have been used to pump water or irrigate a field. A water wheel’s rotary motion might have been used to ground grains into flour. These systems did not consist of many steps or processes between the energy source and its end use. Today’s society demands that energy be stored and transported reliably and predictably to the end user. When energy and power changes form, some of it is lost along the way to elements like friction and heat. Engineers are being challenged to find creative ways to generate energy and to make systems more efficient.


In this lesson students will learn that as energy and power are converted, losses in the system will occur. Students will understand that such losses affect the overall efficiency of the system.

K1 – Describe the characteristics of various sources of energy. 
K2 – Know types of nonrenewable, renewable, and inexhaustible energy sources. 
K3 – Know the equations for work and power. 
K4 – Know the equation for calculation the efficiency of a system. 
K5 – Know the equations related to describing the characteristics of simple circuits.

S1 – Calculate work and power. 
S2 – Correctly use a digital multimeter as a voltmeter, ohmmeter, and ammeter. 
S3 – Calculate electrical power developed in a circuit. 
S4 – Calculate mechanical power developed when lifting an object. 
S5 – Determine efficiency of a system that converts an electrical energy to a mechanical energy. 
S6 – Calculate circuit resistance, current, and voltage using Ohm’s law, including circuits with elements in series and/or parallel. 
S7 – Compare and contrast the behavior of electrical circuits with parallel and series circuit designs. 



U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector
U.S. Energy Flow
U.S. Coal and Natural Gas Power Plants
The U.S. has just over 7000 power plants, about 500 of which are coal-fed and 1700 of which use natural gas. [Interactive Map:]
U.S. Solar, Wind and Nuclear Power Plants
Of the U.S.'s roughly 7000 power plants, 61 are commercially operating nuclear power plants. Texas has two nuclear power plants, generating about 10% of the state's electric power.
U.S. Renewable Energy Consumption
Biomass (mostly wood, municipal waste, and biofuels) comprises half of total renewable energy production. Biofuels are transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel that are made from biomass materials, such as corn (ethanol) or soybean oil (biodiesel). Nearly all of the gasoline now sold in the United States is about 10% ethanol by volume.
Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant
The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in southern Iceland. The plant also provides hot water to the capital city of Reykjavík and the surrounding region. Photo: Andrew Perrone
Field Trip to Decker Power Plant in Austin
Class Field Trip to Decker Creek Power Plant in Northeast Austin, Nov. 2014. The Plant runs on natural gas. This photo was taken in the Control Room. Photo: Andrew Perrone



Texas produced 48.6 billion gallons* (1.16 billion barrels) of crude oil in 2014, over 36% of all domestic production. No other state came close.

*This would fill more than 73,000 Olympic swimming pools!

Nonrenewable and Renewable Energy Sources, an Introduction - website (U.S. Energy Information Administration: 

Nonrenewable and Renewable Energy Sources, a more detailed look - website (

Top 6 Things You Didn't Know About Solar Energy - website (U.S. Department of Energy:

Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Wind Power - website (

Wind Energy Basics - website (European Wind Energy Association:

Top 6 Things You Didn't Know About Nuclear Power - website (

Geothermal Energy - YouTube video (U.S. Department of Energy)

The Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland - website (Mannvit, plant engineering firm)

Natural Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing ("Fracking") - pdf (

The Future of Coal - pdf (

Oil: From the Ground to Your Car - pdf (

Electricity (A Secondary Energy Source) - website (

Electricity Basics (including Generation and Measurement) - website (

Understanding the Power Grid - infographic (


Electric Circuit Basics, including Ohm's Law - website (read Chapters 1, 2, 5 & 7)

Ohm's Law and Circuit Analysis, with practice problems - pdf (on Google Drive)

(Another Resource on) Electric Circuits - website (

Interactive Simulation of Circuit - website (PhET lab, requires Java)

Using a Multimeter - YouTube video (Adafruit)

Using a Multimeter - interactive simulation (PCCL)

Electric Circuits Lab - introductory lab (on Google Drive)


The Power Rating of a Machine - website (

Motor Efficiency - interactive simulation (PCCL)

Motor Efficiency Lab (instructions that can help with the simulation above) - website (Nuffield Foundation)

Motor Efficiency (advanced) - website (

Building a Winch (for the Motor Efficiency Lab that follows) - pdf (on Google Drive)

Mechanical System Efficiency / Motor Efficiency Lab with VEX - pdf (on Google Drive)






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