Don’t forget the infrastructure!

Earlier this month I conducted a teacher workshop devoted to the topic of electricity for science teachers from North Carolina’s coastal region. During the workshop I asked the teachers to tell me about the kinds of local energy issues they are confronting with their students and what questions arise in the classroom as a result.  One teacher remarked that in light of the Desert Wind Power Project being constructed in the northeastern part of the state, he asks his students to consider the infrastructure needed to build a wind farm.  His comment was timely, given that roads are currently being built to enable construction of the wind farm. When we evaluate the different energy sources that can be used to generate electricity we want our students to consider the accompanying infrastructure and land use change that results from the acquisition, management and use of those energy sources.eagleford_vir_2016046

NASA’s recent Image of the Day titled Shale Revolution featured the infrastructure and land use change brought about by oil and gas acquisition in the Eagle Ford Shale Play in Texas. The speckles of light in the nighttime satellite image below are “the electric glow of drilling equipment, worker camps, and other gas and oil infrastructure combine with flickering gas flares.” Comparing daylight satellite imagery from the years 2000 and 2015 revealed a “bustling network of roads and rectangular drill pads had completely transformed the landscape.”  Furthermore, this visual transformation invites the viewer to also consider the societal impacts of such development as well; Cotulla, Texas saw its population more than double in a very short time period!  Thus, these images could be used to prompt a class discussion about the implications of oil and gas development, including the accompanying infrastructure and land use changes, on the local community.

It will be interesting to compare satellite images of the land that will house the Desert Wind Power Project before and after the project is complete and to use these images to prompt student thinking about the environmental, economic and societal impacts of a land-based wind farm in rural North Carolina.

Watching NC’s Desert Wind Power Project Unfold

I had the opportunity to meet the Business Development Director for Iberdrola Renewables last week at the 2016 NC Clean Tech Summit and learned that the state’s first wind farm planned for Perquimans and Pasquotank counties is becoming a reality as roads are currently being constructed and, according to a Jan 2016 Facebook post, tower sections are ready and waiting at the Port of Wilmington.  Once construction of the first phase is complete later this year, 104 wind turbines will generate 208 MW of electricity for Amazon Web Services.

According to the Pasquotank Economic Development Commission’s information page about the wind farm, the turbines will be 2.0 MW Gamesa G114 models.  A two page fact sheet (pdf) detailing the features of these turbines is available.  With towers 305ft high and a total height of almost 500ft when a turbine blade is vertical, these turbines are designed to “catch more wind” at low to medium wind speed sites. Learning about these wind turbines reiterates one thing I learned at the NC Clean Tech Summit, that advances in wind turbine technology are making wind farms a viable option for NC as turbines can now produce power from wind speeds that might not have been sufficient in the past.  These advancements include increased efficiency of the gear box/rotor, innovations in blade length and design, and stronger foundations that enable higher turbines.

What a great opportunity to bring a NC issue into your instruction about wind & renewable energy.  I have included some resources below to help you and your students follow along with the development of this particular wind farm and encourage you to have students examine the pros and cons of wind energy as they evaluate this renewable energy source and this wind energy project in particular.  In fact, this wind energy project is ideal for fostering an issue-based discussion since students will be able to conduct research and find both advocates for and opponents of this project.  Check out this blog post for wind-related curricula including activities that have students consider the issues associated with the siting of wind farms.

Iberdrola Renewables is on Facebook and Twitter (@) where you can find occasional posts and photos on the NC project.  Check out this photo of a tower section arriving at the Port of Wilmington (@NCPorts).

North Carolina’s First Wind Farm, Pasquotank Economic Development Commission

The Amazon ‘Desert Wind’ Project: Benefiting Eastern NC and Beyond, NC Sustainable Energy Association

North Carolina Wind Energy Fact Sheet (2014), Southeastern Wind Coalition
 Please share what you are dong to bring this issue into your classroom.

American Geoscience Institute’s Critical Issues Program

I recently learned about the American Geoscience Institute’s (AGI) Critical Issues Program, a “portal to decision-relevant, impartial, expert information from across the geosciences.”  This website is a potential place to look when you are searching for information related to issues at the intersection of geoscience and society, including energy, climate, water, mineral resources and natural hazards. In fact,writing that last sentence also made me think of  recent commentary I read titled “Why I am a geoscientist” in which the author, Erig Riggs, PhD, states that he loves being a geoscientist because it is an “area of science so directly relevant to the public.”

Energy topics covered include coal, geothermal energy, hydraulic fracturing, mineral resources, nuclear energy, oil and gas and renewable energy. The “Basics” section for each energy topic includes a brief summary that also describes why this topic matters to society and that explains how geoscience informs decisions about the particular topic.  The “Learn More” section includes links to introductory resources, frequently asked questions, related maps and visualizations along with references.  Resources featured come from the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Geological Society of America, The National Academies and USGS and others.

Furthermore, AGI offers three earth science focused activities aligned to the Common Core English Language Arts standards and the Next Generation Science Standards that can be used to prepare grades 6-12 students to read and evaluate informational text.

Want to learn more? Check out AGI’s Center for Geoscience and Society.

 

Interactive infographics from the IEA | World’s energy system through 2050

IEA World Energy 2012

The World’s Energy System in 2012

The International Energy Association’s publication Energy Technology Perspectives 2015, is accompanied by a set of interactive visualizations that utilizes the data and figures behind its publication on energy technologies.  I am an advocate for having students visualize the entire energy system – the diversity of energy sources used to provide electricity to homes and industry and to power our various modes of transportation.  I also find it useful to examine how the system is changing over time as our demand for energy grows in light of the need to limit society’s carbon dioxide emissions. These interactive infographics from the IEA illustrate how the world’s energy system will evolve through 2050.  There are three parts to this online tool: an energy flow visualization, an emissions reduction visualization and a transportation visualization. Here I am featuring the energy flow visualization where the  user can hover over a specific energy source, transformation or end user to study a particular energy flow.  The diagram below shows the global energy flow for coal in 2012 and for 2050 (projected); one can easily compare the two graphics to see that coal use will decrease while global energy demand will increase.  Have you considered asking your students to evaluate and explain energy flow diagrams?

IEA World Energy 2012 and 2050_coal

Global energy flow for coal in 2012 and for 2050 (projected).

The emissions reduction visualization tool allows the user to assess how individual countries or regions can reduce carbon dioxide emissions via deployment of technologies and energy efficiency measures under three different warming scenarios (2°C, 4°C and 6°C). The transport visualization tool enables the user to select an “indicator” such as annual road energy consumption for a specific country, region or the world to visualize the extent to which the selected indicator needs to change to limit Earth’s average global temperature to either 2°C, 4°C or 6°C.  According to the IEA website. “the 2°C Scenario is the main focus of ETP 2015. It lays out the pathway to deploy an energy system and emissions trajectory consistent with what recent climate science research indicates would give at least a 50% chance of limiting average global temperature increase to 2°C.”  You can read the Executive Summary of the ETP 2015 here.

And if you want to read more about energy flow diagrams, check out this post.

Duke Energy 2050 Vision | Online Challenge

I recently learned about this interactive online “Energy Challenge” by Duke Energy where users create a plan to meet the energy demand of  a carbon constrained world in the year 2050. Duke Energy aggregated data from across its entire U.S. service territory and created a visual representation of its service area and power generating facilities which sets the stage for the user who is tasked with making choices about how to meet a growing energy demand while working towards CO2 reduction goals.  Choices that can be made by the user include: building new power plants, including solar and wind farms, upgrading existing power plants to produce more energy, retrofitting existing plants to reduce emissions, closing inefficient power plants and implementing energy efficiency programs.

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As users make decisions, such as retiring a set of aging coal plants or adding a wind farm, they get instant feedback regarding cost (in billions of dollars), impact on CO2 emissions (tons per year) and the extent to which their plan meets the predicted energy demand for the year 2050.  The energy demand meter displayed on the right side of the screen makes it easy to visually monitor the extent to which a decision helps to meet energy demand and the extent to which this demand is met through non-renewable energy sources, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

Duke Energy intends for this tool to “demonstrate the trade-offs and cost implications of choosing an energy generation mix that will meet future energy demand while minimizing CO2 emissions and keeping costs as low as possible.” I could easily see small groups of students competing to see which group can come up with a strategy that reduces CO2 emissions, meets projected energy demand for 2050 and costs the least amount of money.

To learn more about the game, click here.

One Indiana science teacher created a worksheet to accompany this game that could be used with your students.

If you have your students play this game, please share your experience by leaving a comment!

 

 

U.S. Department of Energy BioenergizeME Infographic Challenge

FirstPlaceI recently learned about the U.S. Department of Energy BioenergizeME Infographic Challenge when they announced their 2016 Infographic challenge theme: Exploring the Future American Energy Landscape.  They are asking 9th- through 12th-grade student teams to use technology to research, interpret, apply, and then design an infographic that responds to one of four cross-curricular bioenergy topics:

Bioenergy History
Workforce and Education

Science and Technology
Environmental Impacts

Even better, the Energy Department and the Library of Congress have provided all of the tools necessary to integrate this challenge into your curriculum or offer it as an after-school activity!

BioenergizeME Toolkit

BioenergizeME Research Strategy Guide

BioenergizeME Resource Library

To be considered for the competition, infographics must be submitted by March 4, 2016.

Check out the 2015 winning infographics on cellulosic ethanol (see above), algae and algae biofuel. One NC teacher is already planning to incorporate these winning infographics into her AP Environmental Science class by having her students review and critique the infographics to decide which of the three they would fund for further development.

 

Exploring 2015 electricity generation data for the United States

Earlier this summer the Washington Post published an online map (using data from the Energy Information Administration) to help users visualize the current state of electricity generation in the United States. In addition to showing electricity generation by energy source from January to May 2015, the location and capacity (in megawatts) of each power plant is also featured. Additional maps show the distribution of power plants utilizing a particular energy source (e.g., coal plants operating from January to May 2015).

I think lots of discussions could arise by studying maps such as these with students.  Prompt students to consider how the sources of electricity that are used by a state or region are influenced by access to those energy sources.  What do students notice about the distribution of coal plants? Natural gas plants?  How might the observed trends relate to energy pricing, policies, etc.? One intention of the graphics is to show users that “Local electric utilities take advantage of the power sources most accessible to them: coal mines, dammed rivers, new supplies of natural gas or nuclear plants to generate the bulk of the nation’s electricity.”

Another interactive tool available let’s the user examine and compare how each state uses a particular energy source.  For instance, with a single click the user can view the states that generate the most electricity from wind.

map



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