Archive for the 'Data Visualizations' Category

Accessing local, regional and national data on electricity supply and demand

I am an advocate for having students engage with real data and when that data is locally relevant, even better!  Access to real data about the electrical grid is what I like about the newly released U.S. Electric System Operating Data tool from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This tool provides “analysis and visualizations of hourly, daily, and weekly electricity supply and demand on a national and regional level for all of the 66 electric system balancing authorities that make up the U.S. electric grid.”

There are three Duke Energy balancing authorities (BAs) in NC – Duke Energy Carolinas (DUK), Duke Energy Progress West (CPLW) and Duke Energy Progress East (CPLW).  From the tool’s interactive Status Map, you can view demand (actual & forecasted) and supply data for the BA that is servicing your school.  Hourly, daily, weekly and monthly demand data is available and can even be downloaded in excel should you want your students to conduct a graphing activity.

Map showing balancing authorities in North Carolina

Status map showing NC’s three Duke Energy BAs in blue, with data for Duke Energy Carolinas (DUK) shown (Sept 7, 2016). The size of the circle roughly corresponds to the system size.  By clicking on the corresponding blue dot you will find hourly, daily, weekly and monthly demand curves with these data available for download into excel for a graphing activity.

There is also a live feed that runs across the top of the tool that shows how many total megawatthours the US (the lower 48 states) consumed yesterday (approximately 9.77 million MWh on September 6th, 2016) as well as the latest US hourly demand and yesterday’s peak demand values.

From the Grid Overview home page students can also examine national or regional demand curves, like the weekly demand curve shown here for the Carolinas (CAR) region.

Weekly demand curve for the Carolinas (CAR) region.

What can students learn by examining a  daily or weekly demand curve?  In addition to seeing how many megawatt hours of electricity the Carolinas (CAR) region or a specific BA requires in any given day or week, students may also be able to examine and explain trends in electrical consumption over time and even seasonally.  For example, students could be tasked with examining the extent to which electrical consumption is tied to the weather and recent weather events. For example, the recent hurricane that passed through this region on Sept 3rd brought cooler weather and perhaps some power outages that reduced demand for electricity compared to the days before the hurricane.

This tool also enable users to assess the demand-supply balance for a given region (see below) or balancing authority such as Duke Energy Carolinas.  What can students learn by examining a visualization of demand and supply?  They will observe that  demand and supply closely match (they need to!) and that energy transfers (interchanges) occur to address any differences between demand and supply. The EIA’s About the Grid page in addition to the glossary may also be useful as you familiarize yourself with this tool and the terminology encountered.


Comparing demand and supply for the Carolinas region.





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.

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.”

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