Archive for the 'Fossil Energy' Category

Don’t forget the infrastructure!

Earlier this month I conducted a teacher workshop devoted to the topic of electricity for science teachers from North Carolina’s coastal region. During the workshop I asked the teachers to tell me about the kinds of local energy issues they are confronting with their students and what questions arise in the classroom as a result.  One teacher remarked that in light of the Desert Wind Power Project being constructed in the northeastern part of the state, he asks his students to consider the infrastructure needed to build a wind farm.  His comment was timely, given that roads are currently being built to enable construction of the wind farm. When we evaluate the different energy sources that can be used to generate electricity we want our students to consider the accompanying infrastructure and land use change that results from the acquisition, management and use of those energy sources.eagleford_vir_2016046

NASA’s recent Image of the Day titled Shale Revolution featured the infrastructure and land use change brought about by oil and gas acquisition in the Eagle Ford Shale Play in Texas. The speckles of light in the nighttime satellite image below are “the electric glow of drilling equipment, worker camps, and other gas and oil infrastructure combine with flickering gas flares.” Comparing daylight satellite imagery from the years 2000 and 2015 revealed a “bustling network of roads and rectangular drill pads had completely transformed the landscape.”  Furthermore, this visual transformation invites the viewer to also consider the societal impacts of such development as well; Cotulla, Texas saw its population more than double in a very short time period!  Thus, these images could be used to prompt a class discussion about the implications of oil and gas development, including the accompanying infrastructure and land use changes, on the local community.

It will be interesting to compare satellite images of the land that will house the Desert Wind Power Project before and after the project is complete and to use these images to prompt student thinking about the environmental, economic and societal impacts of a land-based wind farm in rural North Carolina.

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American Geoscience Institute’s Critical Issues Program

I recently learned about the American Geoscience Institute’s (AGI) Critical Issues Program, a “portal to decision-relevant, impartial, expert information from across the geosciences.”  This website is a potential place to look when you are searching for information related to issues at the intersection of geoscience and society, including energy, climate, water, mineral resources and natural hazards. In fact,writing that last sentence also made me think of  recent commentary I read titled “Why I am a geoscientist” in which the author, Erig Riggs, PhD, states that he loves being a geoscientist because it is an “area of science so directly relevant to the public.”

Energy topics covered include coal, geothermal energy, hydraulic fracturing, mineral resources, nuclear energy, oil and gas and renewable energy. The “Basics” section for each energy topic includes a brief summary that also describes why this topic matters to society and that explains how geoscience informs decisions about the particular topic.  The “Learn More” section includes links to introductory resources, frequently asked questions, related maps and visualizations along with references.  Resources featured come from the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Geological Society of America, The National Academies and USGS and others.

Furthermore, AGI offers three earth science focused activities aligned to the Common Core English Language Arts standards and the Next Generation Science Standards that can be used to prepare grades 6-12 students to read and evaluate informational text.

Want to learn more? Check out AGI’s Center for Geoscience and Society.

 

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.

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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!

 

 

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.

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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: http://www.eia.gov/beta/international/

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.”

WFAE’s Charlotte Talks examines Fracking in NC

When I lived in Charlotte one of my favorite programs to listen to during my commute was WFAE’s Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins and so I am looking forward to listening to a two part discussion on fracking in North Carolina that aired on September 3rd and 8th, 2014.

Fracking in NC| Sept 3rd program with featured guests:

  • Christopher Hardin, P.E. – Senior Project Director, CH2M HILL
  • Franklin H. Yoho – Senior Vice President – Chief Commercial Officer, Piedmont Natural Gas
  • Dr. Andy Bobyarchick – Associate Professor of Earth Sciences, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte

Fracking Part 2| Sept 8th program with featured guests:

  • James Womack – Commissioner for the Mining & Energy Commission
  • Dr. Andy Bobyarchick – Associate Professor of Earth Sciences, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte
  • Cassie Gavin – Director of Government Affairs with Sierra Club’s NC Chapter

You can listen to each segment online and find links to related content from WFAE.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan & NC

On Monday June 2nd, the EPA proposed its Clean Power Plan that is intended to cut U.S. carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent (compared with 2005 emissions) by 2030.  The reductions in carbon pollution that will need to be implemented will be different for each state given that each state utilizes a different fuel mix for electricity generation and may already be incorporating low-carbon technologies at existing power plants. According to the EPA, “states can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs.” You can view the June 2nd press release here.

As a teacher, this proposed rule provides a great opportunity for your students to examine the current energy sources used to generate electricity in NC and then to critically assess the various strategies that could be used to reduce carbon pollution by the electricity sector in NC.   Janet McCabe, head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in her post titled Understanding State Goals Under the Clean Power Plan on the EPA Connect Blog, summarized the four measures the  EPA identified that are “technically sound,  affordable, and that result in significant reductions in carbon intensity. They are:
1) improving efficiency at existing coal-fired power plants,
2) increasing utilization of existing natural gas fired power plants,
3) expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low- or zero-emitting alternatives, and
4) increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses.”

According to data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), in 2012 NC ranked 15th nationally in terms of its contribution of carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan interactive map tool enables users to click on a state to learn more about EPA’s carbon reduction goals for that state and to learn about the fossil fuel fired power plants covered by the proposed plan.  The EPA has proposed that North Carolina  lower its carbon pollution to 992 lb/MWh in 2030. North Carolina’s 2012 emission rate was 1,646 pounds/megawatt hours (lb/MWh) so this represents a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030.

You can read more about what this plan means for NC by reading the June 2, 2014 News and Observer article, EPA calls on NC power plants to reduce emission rates 40% by 2030. According to the article, which referenced Jonas Monast, director of the climate and energy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and adjunct professor at the UNC School of Law, federal projections show North Carolina is already on track to see an 18 percent drop in carbon emissions by 2020, compared with 2005.

Fact sheets and details about the proposed rule are available here.

This graphic from the New York Times may also be useful in instruction.

New online tool provides state and national Sankey diagrams

A newly released tool, Free Energy Data or FRED (Beta stage) allows users to visualize state and national energy flow using Sankey diagrams. FRED was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in partnership with two national laboratories and two non-profit organizations. To acquire Sankey diagrams for North Carolina,click on North Carolina on the home page and then click on “energy flows” and you will gain access to Sankey diagrams showing the energy flow in NC for the year 2010 and all the way back to 1964!  Users can navigate the diagrams by mousing over paths of interest. Users can also compare energy flow diagrams for two states using the 2×2 grid button at the top right of the home page.

To see national level data, open the “layers” button located next to the log in button and click on the pencil which will enable you to change your query from ‘stateprov’ to ‘country.’ Then click on the US and then “energy flows to access to Sankey diagrams showing the energy flow in the US for the year 2010 and all the way back to 1960!



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