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.