Archive for the 'Energy Efficiency' Category

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.


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!




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!


Inside Energy iPad app by Shell

This free iPad app from Shell “explores the role innovation plays in producing energy to power and sustain our lives.”  Stories with interactive features are organized into four sections: Innovative Thinking, Meeting Demand, Energy Efficiency and People and Planet.  A two minute video about this app can be viewed here.

While this app can be useful to teachers and students, teachers will want to be sure to remind students to be mindful of who is presenting this information and teach them how to identify potential bias when reviewing scientific information. It would be valuable to have students investigate a particular story presented in the app from different perspectives by gathering related news articles, press releases, etc.

I would love to hear from those of you who have used this app with students – what stories have you found useful in your teaching? How do you prepare your students to critically evaluate what they read and look for evidence of bias?

New interactive tool for exploring future U.S. energy-use scenarios

Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy released an interactive online tool “to help researchers, educators, and students explore future U.S. energy-use scenarios.” The Buildings Industry Transportation Electricity Scenarios (BITES) Tool is a scenario-based tool for analyzing how changes in energy demand and supply by economic sector can impact carbon dioxide emissions.

This web-based tool can be used in the middle and high school classroom to enable students to manipulate inputs, such as energy sources used for electricity generation and transportation fuel use, and to compare outputs and impacts on carbon dioxide emissions and the U.S. energy mix to the year 2050. Output data are made available in graphic form giving your students exposure to interpreting graphs.

To get started, watch the 4 minute intro video on the BITES website and then view scenarios that have already been created or, after a quick registration process, you can start building your own scenario.  A good starting point would be to show your students either the 2010 or 2011 Annual Energy Outlook (U.S. Energy Information Administration) base case.  By not making any changes to the inputs for this base scenario, the outputs will reflect current projections for the “business as usual” scenario. From here students can create their own scenarios, making modifications to one or more economic sectors and then comparing outputs to those of the base case.

Educator resources, including a tutorial and an online learning module are going to be available soon.

The BITES team is very interested in feedback, suggestions and lesson plans developed using the BITES tool! Please consider providing feedback on ways to improve the website and interface as well as sharing the lessons you build around using the BITES Tool. Feedback can be sent to


An All-Electric Vehicle: Up Close and Personal (Video)

The Dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Bill Chameides, recently drove a Nissan Leaf with one of the Department of Energy’s car specialists and created a 6:44 minute video about it. This electric car gets 99 miles “per gallon equivalent” and zero emissions are generated by the vehicle during use but the video does a good job of reminding the viewer that there is a power plant behind the scene generating electricity (and thus emissions) to charge the battery.  Get an up close look at the two charge ports found at the front of the vehicle: a DC Fast Charge Port and a Standard Charge Port.  The video highlights other features the car has that are designed to increase its efficiency, including aerodynamic design and low-rolling resistance tires.


Energy Literacy Framework Released

As part of an effort to improve energy education for individuals and communities, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released Energy Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts, a downloadable, 20-page pdf intended to provide “a framework for energy education for learners of all ages.”

This framework seeks to improve Americans’ understanding of energy, energy sources, generation, use, and conservation strategies. This knowledge will allow for informed decision making on topics ranging from smart energy use at home to consumer choices to national energy policy.

The framework identifies 7 Essential Principles with each Essential Principle supported by six to eight Fundamental Concepts.  The Fundamental Concepts are “intended to be unpacked and applied as appropriate for the learning audience and setting.”

Click here for more information.

Myths and Facts About Electricity in the U.S. South

In December 2011, Marilyn Brown from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, along with co-authors from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University released a paper titled Myths and Facts About Electricity in the U.S. South.  In this publication, the authors identify six myths about clean electricity in the southern United States and in doing so identify “new starting points for energy policy development” by evaluating these myths in the context of future energy policy scenarios.

One myth that is examined that is also of significance to helping today’s learners more critically evaluate future energy options is myth#6, which states that “power resource decisions have little impact on water resources.” The paper cites that 54% of freshwater withdrawals in the South are for thermoelectric generation; thus, water conservation through energy planning is significant for this region.  The paper describes the disconnect that often exists between a state’s energy planning and water conservation policies citing that “energy impacts on water usage is often ignored.” While recognizing that knowledge of this connection may not alter decision-making associated with power generation, the authors cite that the connection should not be ignored in light of growing populations and shrinking water resources.   This is just the kind of connection I want today’s students to be able to make!

It would be interesting to ask your students to examine their own myths around energy consumption; I am willing to bet that most students operate under the assumption that their energy consumption does not impact local water resources, for instance.  I imagine their myths would be very different from the ones identified in this paper; however, this exercise could serve to start a conversation about the myths and underlying belief systems that might be operating as future energy generation options as well as energy efficiency and conservation strategies are considered in your city or town.

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