Energy Resources and Trade-Offs

Energy Resources and Trade-Offs


In this lesson, you will be challenged to buy all the power to run a city. You will pick different types of energy plants while trying to keep a balance between the budget and the impact on the environment.


Start by going to Electricity and read this article that describes the different sources from which electricity comes and how it gets from those primary sources to a person's home. Look for answers to these questions as you read the article You can record your answers to these questions on the Energy Resources and Trade-Offs student sheet:

  • What energy sources does electricity come from?
  • Is electricity easy to move around? Why or why not?
  • Once electricity gets to its destination (likely someone's house), what kinds of work and devices use electricity?
  • Do you think certain primary sources of energy used to make electricity harm the environment?
  • If you were to run a power plant that made electricity, what primary source of energy would you use?

Now go to the Power Up! interactive and follow these directions:

  1. Click the "?" button on the top left of the screen to learn how to play. Click the "Back" button when you are finished.
  2. Now click the "!" button to read more about energy. Click "Back" when you are done reading.
  3. To begin playing, pick one of the three plants at the top of the screen.
  4. You can scroll your mouse over each one to take a look at how much power you would be buying, the cost, and the environmental impact your purchase will have.
  5. The game will automatically stop when you have negatively harmed the environment too much, run out of money, or powered up your city without doing either of these things.
  6. When you have powered up your city, you can try again by clicking on "Play Again" if you have time.

As you go through the interactive, take notes on what you observe so that you can answer these questions:

  • Is it possible to power up a city and not harm the environment?
  • Do you think the trade-off of harming the environment is worth buying less expensive power plants?
  • Are there other trade-offs that you noticed when investing in power plants for your city?
  • Who do these trade-offs affect? You personally, the city as a whole, or people beyond the city?
  • What if you changed the trade-off, for instance, spent more money to do less harm to the environment, OR did more harm to the environment to have cheaper utility rates? What would the outcomes be?
  • Are the outcomes of your decisions for powering up a city all good?

Knowledge Check

After doing the interactive, find out more about where some resources for the power plants come from: namely coal and oil. Go to and read these sections from the PBS NOW series, The Cost of Coal:

Then, read these two short articles about drilling for oil in the Arctic:

Once you have read the articles, use the Comparing Coal and Oil student sheet to write a two-page essay comparing coal and oil. Make these points in your essay:

  • General differences of the resources, such as how/where they are found or obtained.
  • How obtaining these energy resources can have an impact on the environment.
  • Any trade-offs that have already occurred, or could occur, regarding the two types of energy resources you have read about. Examples are wildlife vs. human need, or a community vs. country need.
  • Whether or not the trade-offs are between desirable possibilities or outcomes.

This esheet is a part of the Energy Resources and Trade-Offs lesson.

Did you find this resource helpful?

Esheet Details