International Energy Portal (EIA Beta version)

Earlier this week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)  released the Beta version of its redesigned International Energy Portal, an interactive online tool that enables users to visualize global and country-specific energy data and trends through heat maps, bubble maps, column charts, and time series plots, some of which can be animated.  These data depict international energy use  for petroleum, coal, natural gas and electricity for over 200 countries for over 30 years, starting in 1980.


The screen shot above depicts primary coal production for the year 2012 and the data visualization tool enables you to examine coal production all the way back to 1980 – users can also download the data for further analysis and comparison. Image source:

You can learn more about the new features of this tool here. Features that will likely be of interest to teachers include the ability to:

  • “view and download complete data sets for consumption, production, trade, reserves, and carbon dioxide emissions for different fuels and energy sources.”
  • “compare compare data across different energy sources by converting to British thermal units, terajoules, and tons of oil equivalent.”
  • “choose specific countries, regions, and data series for review and comparison.”
  • examine “how energy production, consumption, reserves, imports, and exports have changed over time.”

If you enjoy using graphics in your instruction and like keeping up with energy news and trends, you may want to consider subscribing to EIA’s Today in Energy newsletter which brings a short article with accompanying graphics to your inbox each weekday.  It is a quick and easy way to stay up to date on “energy facts, issues, and trends.”

Resources for teaching about microgrids

I recently attended UNC’s Clean Tech Summit where I heard the term “microgrid” over and over when discussing the future of energy and the nation’s electric grid in particular.  According to the US Department of Energy, microgrids are “are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resilience.”

The interest in microgrids continues to grow, in part, because of strong support from the Department of Defense (DOD).  The 2015 Military & Government Microgrids Summit website states that “the DOD is establishing a network of microgrids at over 40 military bases, and are investigating the deployment of mobile microgrids at its 600+ forward operating bases.” Military leaders see microgrids as a component of energy independence and also a means to protect against possible cyberattacks. A June 2014 article describes how NC’s Fort Bragg is leading the way in the deployment of microgrid technologies

And Duke Energy unveiled a microgrid test project in Mount Holly, NC earlier this year. According to a Feb 2015 article in greentechmedia, this project “will incorporate a solar- and battery-powered microgrid, capable of islanding from the grid for short periods of time and running on its own power. Unlike almost all the microgrids now running today, Duke [Energy]’s will have no backup generators or other spinning power resources.”

For those of you who teach about microgrids or want to update your instruction to include microgrids, I have compiled some resources that might be useful:

How Microgrids Work | Department of Energy

The Role of Microgrids | Department of Energy 

Microgrid Activities | Department of Energy 

Microgrids | Microgrids at Berkeley Lab (includes example of microgrids)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Microgrid Initiative | The Electricity Journal

Smart Microgrids on College & University Campuses | Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

Please share other, related resources or activities that can be used to introduce students to microgrids and/or other ways to promote grid resilience.

Energy Literacy Video Series and Social Studies Lessons

The Department of Energy (DOE), along with the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), the Center for Geoscience and Society and the National Center for Science Education have completed an Energy Literacy Video Series to accompany the DOE’s Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education. This framework cites seven essential principles and fundamental concepts for teaching energy and each of the seven principles is now summarized in a 4-6 minute video! The video series is also available in Spanish through the DOE’s YouTube channel. There is a teacher guide and student analysis guide to accompany the video series  and the Energy Literacy Quick Start Guide for Educators will help you find additional resources for integrating energy literacy concepts into instruction.

In addition to the video series, AGI has developed a social studies lesson for each of the seven principles outlined in the Energy Literacy Framework.  These lessons are geared towards grades 9-12 students and are aligned to the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards.

Principle 1:
How should the United States deal with nuclear waste?

Principle 2:
How has water shaped human settlement?

Principle 3:
Where does our food come from?

Principle 4:
Analyzing U.S. energy infrastructure: Where does electricity come from?

Principle 5:
Should the U.S. Government subsidize specific energy initiatives?

Principle 6:
How much energy do I need?

Principle 7:
How does transportation impact the environment?


An Engineering Exploration Challenge from National Geographic

Students love hands-on activities and always enjoy a friendly competition. I just came across this  energy-related STEM challenge from National Geographic’s Center for Geo-education that I am going to try with students this summer.  Students are asked to use the National Geographic Engineering Process to “design, build, and test a wearable power-source that generates 1 watt of electricity.” There is a workbook for use with younger students and a handout for use with older students both of which are intended to guide the students through the engineering process. In addition, there is an  Educator Tool Kit which includes a list of suggested materials to get students started on this challenge (see challenge #3 on pages 7 and 8).

This challenge was one of three during the 2014 Engineering Exploration Challenge.  Let’s keep an eye out for the 2015 Engineering Exploration Challenge to see if any will be related to energy!


New Energy Literacy Video Series

Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)  launched a new Climate Education and Literacy Initiative to “help connect American students and citizens with the best-available,  science-based information about climate change.” The OSTP acknowledged a number of “commitments” made by Federal agencies and others to this initiative which included a commitment to enhance energy literacy.

In recognition of this commitment, the Department of Energy (DOE), along with the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), announced an Energy Literacy Video Series to accompany the Energy Literacy Framework. This framework cites seven essential principles and fundamental concepts for teaching energy and each of the first four principles is now summarized in a 4-6 minute video. Videos for the final three essential  principles  are expected by September 2015.

Below are the first four essential principles in the framework which is also available in Spanish:


You may also be interested in the five minute TED-Ed video, “A Guide to the Energy of the Earth,” which shows the 7 essential principles in action.

Understanding the Grid| Infographic from the Dept of Energy

I missed #GridWeek on which occurred Nov 17-21, 2014. The intent of this social media event was to give the US Department of Energy an outlet for highlighting “some of the exciting progress in transforming our nation’s power grid into a system that is more resilient, reliable and better able to meet the changing demands of our 21st century society.”

Check out the #GridWeek infographic titled Understanding the Grid which not only outlines how electricity gets from a power plant to your home but also features grid innovations (smart meters, energy storage, microgrids) and the job opportunities available in the power grid sector as the current workforce retires and as new technologies become adopted.

Here are a few other related resources from the Department of Energy:

How Energy Works: Explaining Game-Changing Energy Technologies
Microgrids, particle accelerators, 3D printers and wind turbines

How microgrids work

Smart meters and a smarter grid

Energy storage and the grid

Top 9 Things You Didn’t Know About America’s Power Grid



Announcing an Interactive Energy Game from the US EPA

The US EPA has just released an interactive board game developed by physical scientist Rebecca Dodder, PhD, in collaboration with classroom teachers and others at the EPA, and this is a game that teachers are going to love incorporating into their instruction!  The Generate! Game lets participants engage in friendly competition while conducting a  simulation that enables them to examine the costs and benefits of using varied fossil and renewable energy sources to power their electrical grid.

Each team is given a game board which represents their power grid.  Every team has same size grid and thus can generate the same total amount of energy, but teams do not have the same mix of energy sources. Each team assembles a portfolio of energy sources for their grid under constraints provided by the facilitator – which group can come up with the least expensive energy portfolio?  Which group can come up with a portfolio that generates the least amount carbon dioxide emissions? Which energy portfolio utilizes the least amount of water and would presumably be more resilient during a drought?  How does the addition of energy efficiency measures impact costs? emissions?Game-in-playI have seen this game played numerous times, both with high school students and teachers and it is always well received. In fact, most people want to keep playing the game as each round brings an improved understanding of the kinds of decisions that must be taken into account when choosing which energy sources will be used to provide electricity. This game is a very effective instructional tool that cultivates critical thinking about the energy sources used to generate electricity both now and in the future.

Materials for making your own Generate! game are now available along with a PowerPoint slide set for introducing the game to students and a teacher’s guide for both middle school and high school teachers. Once you conduct this game with students, you will find that students are more prepared to thoughtfully engage in a discussion about the future of electricity generation and to grapple “with the complexities of our energy challenges.”

Have fun!



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