WSU Whatcom County Extension

Stewardship is Where You Are

Electrical Entrepreneurs

The Big Picture

Long before electricity was discovered and harnessed, humans used the power of running water and wind.

Watermill and Windmill

Using simple gears, these old fashioned mills were used to cut lumber or grind corn. When the electrical generator was conceived, the mills were adapted to spin generators.

Electricity is not considered a non-renewable or renewable resource. It is called a secondary resource because it is generated through mechanical means. Inventions throughout time have helped us create and utilize electrical energy, and now it seems we could scarcely exist without it. One of the best things about electricity is that we can use our natural renewable resources to generate it. Solar power, wind power and water power can move turbines that spin electrical generators. It is a fairly simple operation which has vast reaching consequences.

Explorer - Skill Level: One Engager - Skill Level: Two Citizen Scientist - Skill Level: Three


Energy experiment

Activity 1: Energy Users in My Town

Objective: interview independent energy producers to compare and contrast alternative energies and how they could

Science Skills: Measure, Collect Data, Compare/Contrast, Evaluate

Life Skills: Marketable Skills, Communication

Preparation Activities: Ask youth to bring one of their most often used appliances to the club meeting. Ask parents/guardians to average their kW/volys usage per day from an electric bill. Check the contacts in “It’s All Connected” to make sure they are available and have time to respond to any questions your members may have.

Materials Required: Energy Report (pdf), Kill-A-Watt instructions (pdf), Kill-A.Watt meter (available on loan from Extension Office)

Activity 1:

Step 1:
Check out a kW reader from your Extension office or possibly your local library. Have youth find out how many kW of electricity using one of their favorite appliances (hair dryer, lap top, TV) uses. Record this information for the Energy Report. Ask your parents or guardians to find out the average # of kW used in your home per day. (Study your electric bills.)

Step 2:
Utilizing the connections in “It’s All Connected” identify local alternative electrical energy producers including those that use hydro-power, solar power or wind power. Find out how much electricity they can generate in a given period of time given ideal conditions. Chart these discoveries and identify how much service they can supply.

Activity 2: Making More Hydro-Power

Objective: Build a water turbine that demonstrates how mass and vertical distance can affect power generation

Science Skills: Plan Investigations, Design, Build, Hypothesize, Experiment, Collect Data, Interpret

Life Skills: problem solving, communication

Preparation Activities: gather materials, choose whether to let youth design the turbine as an inquiry or by following directions.

Materials Required:

The Water Wheel:
blower fan blade
An old playing card
1 or 2 wire hangers
pliers/ wire cutters
rubber bands or thin bendable wire
Waterproof electrical tape

The Water System:
gallon jug of water
a water trough (a piece of rain gutter molding)
a large tub
a protractor

1) Explain that water can be used to spin a turbine and generate electrical power in a generator. (as per the Explorer activity). Youth can review “Explore More” links on this topic. Ask them: What creates more power in a hydro-electric design? (more rotations)

2) Show the youth the materials for making a water wheel. Tell them: “Our objective is to figure out what to makes a water wheel spin the most. We will design a wheel that will count every rotation with a sound. If you ever rode a bicycle with a playing card attached to the spoke, you are familiar with this design.” You can also show them the photo of the basic water wheel design and the instructions for making the water wheel, depending on how much investigation and creativity you want them to have.

3) Once the waterwheel is set up place it in a tub (or sink). Have the youth pour the water steadily down the trough so that it spins the wheel and ask them to count how many “clicks” the playing card on the wheel makes.
Factoid: One gallon of water falling 100 feet per second can generate about 1 kW of electric power.

4) Ask the youth to figure out how to get more clicks per gallon of water using the tools provided. As them to keep a record of the different attempts they make and precisely what they change (variables) in each attempt. (Hint: use a protractor to measure how steep the water trough is.)

Asking the Right Questions:
What variables can we change to increase the amount of spins the turbine makes? Were there any inefficiencies or flaws in the design that might be improved to increase speed? Where else do you think we can find examples of this design? Where can we find out how much electricity is generated from a larger hydro-electric turbine? What other natural resources might spin a turbine?

Activity 3: (optional) Making Your Own Power

Objective: Building an advanced design of an electrical generator

Science Skills: Use Tools, Build/Construct, Problem Solve

Life Skills: Self Motivation, Problem Solving

Preparation Activities: Visit some of the Advanced Design Links in Explore More. Print images of various finished products to share with youth. These are time intensive projects.

Materials Required: Varies.

Activity: Utilize some of the instructions to build more advanced alternative energy generators. Demonstrate your model through fairs or other public presentation venues.



Natural Resource Stewards


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Explore More

Energy Conversion Calculator

Energy Kids (DOE) : Hydropower

Andy Darvill Energy Resources

KidWind Project Advanced Models

PSE Powerful Choices Curriculum

Why HydroPower?


It's All Connected

Jennifer Montgomery
PSE Program Implementer, Net and Production Metering
(425) 456-2419

Mike New, V.P., Canyon Hydro

Are you an alternative energy producer in Whatcom County interested in sharing your story? Contact the WSU Extension Office!


“Bellingham is recognized as one of the top green power communities in the nation with the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County purchasing enough green power to cover 100 percent of their electric loads and Western Washington University positioned as one of PSE’s top green power customers.”

- PSE Website

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WSU Whatcom County Extension, 1000 North Forest Street, Suite 201, Bellingham, WA 98225, (360) 778-5800, Contact Us