Archive for the 'Maps' Category

Pipeline shutdown & gasoline supply in the Southeast

I live in the Triangle and have seen firsthand the effects of the partial shutdown of the Columbia pipeline as I have driven by many gas stations this week where no fuel was available.  An event such as this can be used to remind students where our gasoline comes from and to prompt them to consider the consequences of having to transport fuels over long distances.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) featured the pipeline disruption and provided the map below in its September 21st, Today in Energy feature article (which you can sign up to receive each weekday via email).  According to this article “the U.S. Southeast is supplied primarily by pipeline flows from refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast and supplemented by marine shipments from the U.S. Gulf Coast and imports.” Seeing this map helped me to understand why this pipeline disruption impacted central North Carolina to a great extent.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

There is an online mapping tool available that enable users to create their own maps as they evaluate different energy sources.  I used the EIAs U.S. Energy Mapping System to quickly create a similar map that shows petroleum refineries (boxes); petroleum pipelines (dashed lines); and petroleum ports (ships):ppile

Then I added additional map layers to also show oil wells (light brown dots) and oil/gas platforms (dark brown dots) in federal waters so students can also see the distribution of wells and platforms in relation to petroleum refineries.


I would love to hear from teachers who have incorporated this current event into their instruction.

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.





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.

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.


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.


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