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

While it appears to be several years old, 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.


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.


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?



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