Everyday conversations: The cost and rewards of clean energy [audio]

A young entrepreneur stands in front of a wind turbine. (State Dept./ D.A. Peterson)

Six students from around the world meet. What do they have in common? They are all exchange students studying at a U.S. university for a semester. Throughout the semester, they learn more English, learn about U.S. culture, and learn more about their fields of study. This series of Everyday Conversations is about these six students and their experiences during a semester at a university in the U.S. These conversations are for intermediate-level English-language learners or higher.

Students (Akinyi, Lee and Peter) look at Lee’s photos from a trip. In the photos are wind turbines, devices that convert the movement of air into electricity. The three students talk about the advantages of wind power.

Akinyi: Where were these pictures taken, Lee?

Lee: Which ones? Oh, those pictures are from a trip to the U.S. Botanic Garden. One of my classes went there to see the wind turbines.

Peter: There are wind turbines at the botanical garden?

Lee: It surprised me too. They’re small ones. Unfortunately, they only offset a small portion of the facility’s energy use. But putting small turbines on the rooftops of buildings is an interesting idea that is gaining popularity.

Akinyi: Interesting. But do they generate enough power to offset the cost of building them?

Peter: I really like how you’re always thinking like a businessperson!

Lee: No one knows for sure yet. It’s a fairly new endeavor in the wind energy field. At least now more people are looking at renewable energy.

Akinyi: This seems like a great field for entrepreneurs to enter. But it seems like the upfront costs would be huge, and the payback would take a long time.

Lee: Yes, that’s why some people think it’s important to have government subsidies to encourage clean energy use. But remember, the payback to society in the long run is huge!

Now let’s review the vocabulary.

A wind turbine is a rotating device that converts the movement of air into electricity.

A botanical garden is a place where plants are grown for the public to view and sometimes for scientific study.

To offset means to cancel or reduce the effect of something or to create an equal balance between two things.

The verb generate means to produce something.

An endeavor is an effort or attempt to do something.

Renewable energy is energy that comes from things that will not run out. It is energy that is naturally replenished. “To replenish” means to replace what has been used.

An entrepreneur is a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.

An upfront cost is money paid before receiving a good or service. In this context, the upfront cost of purchasing the turbine means the money paid for the turbine before receiving any energy produced by the turbine.

Payback is the money or reward one receives after investing in something. In this context, the payback of the turbine is low-cost and clean energy.

A subsidy (plural: subsidies) is money paid by the government or other organization to lower the cost of a product or service.

In the long run means eventually, or after a long period of time.

Ready to learn more English? Our materials can help.

The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.

Everyday Conversations are developed by the State Department’s Heidi Howland, a senior program officer in the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.