Archive for the 'Hydropower' Category

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

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!



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.


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!


2014 World Water Day: Water and Energy

Photo of Kerr-DamnThe theme of the 2014 World Water Day on March 22 is water and energy. As a teacher, you may be interested in seeing how many of the event’s key messages, designed to raise awareness about water and energy, are relevant to your teaching and perhaps that you are already incorporating into your instruction.

In recognition of World Water Day, today the United Nations released the 2014 World Water Development Report (pdf) that is divided into two volumes – Volume 1 – Water and Energy and Volume 2 – Facing the Challenges, which includes thirteen case studies from around the globe that illustrate “that an array of opportunities exists to exploit the benefits of synergies, such as energy recovery from sewerage water, the use of solar energy for wastewater treatment, and electricity production at ‘drinking water power plants’. These examples also showcase alternatives to fossil fuel-based energy production, including hydropower development, geothermal energy, solar power and biogas.” There is one US case study about Austin, Texas, which is at “the centre of energy-rich and water-stressed Texas” that highlights the city’s water and energy conservation programs, including a reclaimed water program. These case studies are brief and reader friendly and could be useful to students seeking not only to understand the interplay between water and energy but also to examine innovative solutions for conserving water and energy around the globe.

Information briefs to accompany 2014 World Water Day are also available and may be useful as you seek to update your instruction about the water and energy connection:

Water and Energy (pdf)
Water and Energy Efficiency (pdf)
Water and Energy Sustainability (pdf)

There is also a useful list of additional documents and information resources, which includes links to related infographics, activities for youth, and articles. Facts and figures from the 2014 report are also available.

I’d love to hear how you use any of this information with your students!

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!

Sankey diagrams to visualize energy flows

Sankey diagrams are visualizations that can help your students learn about the flow of energy in a system.  The first Sankey diagram was introduced by an Irish engineer, Captain Sankey, in an 1898 article about the energy efficiency of a steam engine. Today, Sankey diagrams are valuable tools for visualizing the flow of energy from source to services (end use).  One thing that your students will notice is that in many cases, rejected energy (e.g., heat) is greater than the amount of useful energy generated!

LLNLUSEnergy2011You may already be familiar with the annual energy flow diagrams made available by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The most recent flow chart is for the year 2011.  A flow chart of US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions is also available (most recent is for 2010).

Teaching Resources

These flow charts can be used with students to promote active learning. The National Academy of Sciences has constructed an interactive Sankey diagram using 2009 US energy flow data titled, Our Energy System, that could be used to introduce students to this visualization tool.

Chapter 6 of the Global Systems Science online book “Energy Use” guides users through an “untangling” process where they consider the energy source with the widest path (petroleum) first to get a sense of how to interpret the flow chart.  Guiding student questions are also provided. And this lesson on the energy economy, provides users with questions that can be used to dissect the US energy flow diagram from 2002, an interesting year from the author’s perspective (see References and Resources section of lesson).

International energy flow charts are also available, with the most recent set summarizing energy flow for the year 2007 for 136 countries.  The link to these flow charts as well as teacher tips for utilizing these Sankey diagrams can be found by clicking here.

State-Level energy flow charts are also available, with the most recent set summarizing energy flow for the year 2008 for all 50 states.  The link to these flow charts as well as teacher tips for utilizing these Sankey diagrams can be found by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: