The Winds of Change

(Thanks to Ivan Vranic,

Age group 1st – 3rd year, TY

Total time 2.5hrs (over two 40 minute classes, with some research homework)

Notes for teachers and parents/carers

This activity sheet is designed to be carried out at home or school under supervision by a teacher or any adult who can help direct the work which involves some basic mathematical calculations. The instructions are directed to the adult. Most of the information needed to answer the questions is given on the main sheet, but we do encourage the students to think for themselves and to research the topic further. Full solutions to section 3- Researching Wind Energy are provided here. Feel free to adapt this activity as appropriate.

Outline: To learn about the law of conservation of energy and the pros and cons of wind energy as a renewable energy source

Junior Cycle Curriculum Links

Students should be able to

  • produce and select data, critically analyse data to identify patterns and relationships, identify anomalous observations and justify conclusions (Investigating in Science, The Nature of Science)
  • investigate patterns and relationships between physical observables (Systems and Interactions, Physical World)

Statements of Learning

  • Recognises the potential uses of mathematical knowledge, skills and understanding in all areas of learning

    Describes, illustrates, interprets, predicts and explains patterns and relationships

Key Skills

Being literate

Being creative

Managing information and thinking


1. Can we really waste energy?

Have you ever said ‘Switch off the light; it’s a waste of energy to leave it on’? We often talk in everyday language about ‘using up’ energy and ‘saving’ energy in our homes and schools. In scientific terms, this is not actually correct. Why? You learn about the law of conservation of energy in your science class.

What does this law say?

Conservation of energy means that we cannot use up or waste energy, but we can transfer or convert it from one form to another. Give the main energy conversions in the following situations:

  • You plug in your phone, to charge the battery and then you make a phone video call on it…………………
  • Your parents fill the car with petrol for the journey to work…………………….
  • In a hydro-electric station, water is held behind a dam on a river, and released from a height to turn a turbine……………………………………………………………..
  • You cycle to your friend’s house to hang out………………………………………..

In the second situation above, we do not use up all the energy from the petrol, but we do use up all the petrol. What people really mean when they talk about using up or saving energy is about not using up valuable sources of fossil fuels. This is why we talk about renewable sources of energy, but we should remember that energy itself is not renewable.

But if we are not using up all the energy from the petrol when we drive a car, where does it go? Research this online and see where all the energy goes.

Did you know?

  • Transport is by far the largest source of final energy demand in Ireland. In 2018 it accounted for 42% of final energy demand and grew by 2.6%.
  • Ireland’s energy import dependency was 67% in 2018, down from 85% in 2014. Yet Ireland is still one of the most energy import dependent countries in the EU.
  • In 2018 wind provided 85% of Ireland’s renewable electricity and 30% of our total electricity demand.

Source: (sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland)

2. Energy and Climate Change

Brainstorm on what the students know about energy use and climate change. Use the following questions if you wish:

What do you know about the different types of energy we use in our homes and schools every day? (electrical, gas, solar, wood etc..) Do you know where they come from? (fossil fuels or renewables?) Are we being wise about how we use energy in our every day lives? Do you think most people on the planet use as much energy as we do? Who do you think is responsible for making the biggest changes to minimise climate change?

Can wind energy help?

Have you ever heard about why wind energy might have positive and negative affects on a place, and its surroundings?

(thanks to Nathan McBride,

Wind Energy: Blowing up a Storm?

Wind energy is one of the renewable sources of energy. In Ireland about 15% of our annual electricity needs is produced by wind. It does not produce any greenhouse gases when the wind turbines are running, but the manufacture of the turbines, and the cement base generates some greenhouse gases and contamination. When analysing all renewable resources a full life-cycle of all parts of the energy system must be looked at. This is called a cradle-to-grave analysis.

Wind energy is not going to be used up as long as there is wind. SEAI reported that 40% of Ireland’s power came from renewables in 2020, and 36% of that was from wind energy. Yet unfortunately Ireland did not meet its renewable energy targets for 2020. In 2018 Ireland was 27th out of 28 EU countries for progress towards the 2020 overall renewable energy target. Wind energy could help us change that.

3. Researching Wind Energy

Do some research on wind energy in Ireland. Consult your science textbook, the SEAI website, other reliable internet sources and newspaper articles in order to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the advantages of wind energy in Ireland?What would be the advantages of Solar energy?
  2. Like solar and tidal energy, wind is a variable source of energy. What does this mean?
  3. Why might it be a problem for a country to depend on variable sources of energy for generating electricity?
  4. Although wind is a renewable resource, some people object to wind farms being installed in the country close to their homes. What reasons do they give for this? Is there evidence to support their concerns?
  5. Apart from environmental concerns, there are two other reasons often given why it is important that Ireland generates electricity from renewable sources. These are to do with energy security and with meeting our EU carbon reduction target. Find out what the terms in black mean.
  6. Wind turbines are said to negatively affect tourism, local businesses and habitats for wildlife. What are some of the arguments made for this? What can be done to ensure that wind farms minimise their negative impacts?
  7. More communities around the world are arguing that energy sovereignty is more important to them than just energy security. This means that they want their local energy supplies to be under community control. Find out more about what energy sovereignty is all about.

For solutions to this section click here

There is huge potential for Ireland to become self-sustaining as an energy producer using wind energy. Read this news article from RTE to find out more:

Solutions page downloadable here -Coming soon!

4. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes

After reading and researching the previous questions about wind energy, try out this role playing activity. You don’t need to represent all the roles outlined below. Pick whichever ones you find most interesting to you, or adapt them!

What you need

3-4 participants representing different parts of society, 1 chair/facilitator for the meeting, some props for each role (tie/briefcase, farmer’s cap, placards for a campaigning group, get creative with costumes and props!)


Read the following to the students, and then let them chose their roles

A large wind farm project is being proposed beside a picturesque town on the west coast of Ireland, by a large wind farm company. They say they will provide employment to locals, more energy security for Ireland and make this town a modern hub of sustainability. The company wishes to offer the local community shares in the wind farm project. Local counsellors are very interested in the proposal to help generate much needed funds for local public services. Some local farmers have heard that their cattle’s milk production could be affected by the turbines’ noise level. Others wonder if the tourist industry will be affected. Local bird watchers are concerned about the physical impact on local wildlife and migratory birds. The local Friday’s for Future climate youth group want the wind farm to be even bigger. They say we have no time to loose and must act now to minimise climate change and save our planet. There will be a local meeting where a few representatives have been invited to discuss their concerns.


Ask for volunteers to represent the roles listed below. Get some simple props to help them get into their roles. Feel free to add/modify roles. If a larger group is doing the activity, break them into four or more groups. Each role-play group can elect who will be their spokesperson etc. Using the information previously researched through the questions, discuss in your group, and write down the main arguments, concerning the wind farm project proposed in your town.The teacher/adult can decide to facilitate the discussion, or could ask a student to take the role. Decide time limits for each speaker to make their points.

Local Community Rep. – represents the general town’s people, local tourist businesses, and farmers concerns, etc

Counsellor/local politician – represents the local council’s interests as well as some of the local communities

Wind energy company Rep – outlines their project, how long it will take to build, how much energy it will produce, how many jobs they will create etc. (Be creative and make up a rough story of how it might be)

Local environmental group Rep. – advocates for the local environment

Friday’s for Future youth group – represents local youth activists fighting to minimise climate change


It is advisable to do a quick debrief at the end so everyone can take a moment to step back from their roles, and remind everyone to not take personally any of the intense discussions that can sometimes arise.

Facilitator/teacher can say something like,

‘Let’s all take a moment to come back to the classroom, take off your props. All stand up, stretch/breathe. Give a big round of applause to all who took part.’

Feel free to ask a few of the following questions for people to think about, or to share if they are willing.

– How did you feel during the course of this role-play activity? Did this change as the discussion progressed/advanced?

– What worked well or not so well during the role-play?

– What were the best arguments put forward for and against the wind farm in your view?

– Was it easy to see who had the most convincing argument?

– Did science help to inform any of the arguments?

5. Lise Meitner and the Story of Energy

Lise Meitner was an Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. In 1939 Meitner was part of a group of scientists who discovered nuclear fission. In doing so, she helped create nuclear power plants (and unfortunately nuclear weapons). She was a pioneer woman in science and a pacifist. In 2018 a film was released about her life and her work.

Read more here

5. What did you like, what did you learn?

What did you most like/least like about this activity? 

What did you learn about energy and in particular wind energy?

What else would you like to learn about the science and physics behind energy and renewable energy?

Leave a comment on how you liked this activity, on our twitter @SophiaPhysics

6. Sources and Extra Resources