With the 2016-2017 school year now underway, I wanted to be sure you knew about a new resource from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – a monthly electronic newsletter titled STEM Spark – that will highlight energy technologies, energy education resources, career information and competitions for K-12 and higher education audiences.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?I 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.”
This article by Jared Brumbaugh appears with the permission of Public Radio East. To view the original article and/or listen to the 5 minute broadcast click here.
Coastal scientists are hoping to deploy two buoys in April to explore wind energy potential off the coast of North Carolina.
It was the winds of coastal North Carolina that propelled Orville and Wilbur Wright to first in flight more than 110 years ago. Soon, scientists will launch a one year study to determine if those same coastal winds can be used to power homes and businesses. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will deploy two – 3,000 lb. buoys to collect information on water and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic. Professor of Marine Sciences Harvey Seim says they’ll use the information to help identify viable lease block locations for offshore wind farms.
“The intent here is to take a closer look at what the offshore wind energy resource is like and to carefully document its structure to help where and where not to consider deployment of offshore wind turbines.”
In 2008, the North Carolina State Legislature requested that a study be conducted to look at the viability of offshore wind energy in our state.
“The University played a big role in putting together a report for the state at that time over the next year. And we found that there was reason to be encouraged that offshore wind energy might be feasible off of North Carolina.”
Seim says there has been a series of follow up projects conducted since the study, the most recent will be the placement of the two buoys 20 miles off the coast. Below the surface of the water is a large, donut shaped flotation collar about 6 to 7 feet in diameter. The visible section consists of a 12 foot super structure equipped with high-tech meteorological instruments.
“On the super structure are a number of sensors to measure properties of the atmosphere, the main one being the wind speed and direction. We have a couple of anemometers, redundant, so we can make sure we’re getting the right measurements. Air temperature, air humidity, air pressure, rainfall, things that tell us about how cloudy it is. And in addition, a camera that will take a snap shot of the sea surface conditions every hour.”
Just below the water and at a depth of 50 feet, special instruments will record the ocean’s temperature and salinity. The two buoys will be anchored to the seafloor about 80 miles apart. One will be located north of Cape Hatteras and the other off Ocracoke Island. Semin says the buoys will be placed in areas where there’s a lack of data indicating a favorable spot for wind energy development.
“The intent is to try to fill in the holes in the historical database in sites that look like they should be promising based on other data, but we’ve never taken measurements in those particular locations.”
Semin says the areas where they are conducting their research will be in non-conflict areas, which are places that don’t disrupt military, fishing, and ecological activities. The purpose of the research project will focus mainly on collecting information about wind speed and direction. Seim says they’ll study how the proximity of the Gulf Stream to the continental shelf creates a seemingly favorable environment for wind energy facilities.
“This is the Gulf Streams closest approach to the continent anywhere along the eastern sea board except for Florida. And when it comes close to the land, it essentially serves as an energy source and helps pump up the wind fields, we know that’s what happens during the wintertime and spinning up strong storms right off of our coast.”
The buoys are equipped with satellite communications, which will transmit data back to shore every hour. According to Seim, the data will be available to the public, as well as local and commercial mariners, divers, weathermen, and scientists. He says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be the primary receiver of the data, and will help distribute the information globally.
“The data from the buoys will flow into the National Weather Service’s model systems and help with forecasting, we’ll also be hosting our own website to present the data to people as well.”
The original buoys were purchased nearly a decade ago. After an extensive 100,000 dollar retrofit, the pair of buoys were deployed off the coast in 2011. But before the research could be completed, the buoys were severely damaged either intentionally or by accident. Over 200-thousand dollars in repairs have been made, and the buoys are set to be deployed next month. Semin is hoping to alert mariners to be on the lookout for the buoys and any suspicious activity.
“The buoys are marked with their identification numbers from NOAA, these NDBC numbers, and they have a website on them that’s fairly easy to access that you could just go in there and let us know if you think there’s something that’s not looking right. We’d also like to ask that people don’t tie off to the buoys. They’re big and robust, but the instruments themselves are fairly delicate so if you try to throw a line on them, you might damage some of the equipment.”
The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary vessel was set to deploy the buoys earlier this month, but a critical component failure will keep it in harbor until next week. When the buoys are deployed, they will spend a year in the Atlantic collecting data. Seim is hoping the project will receive more funding and can be extended so they’re able to document atmospheric and ocean conditions over a longer period of time. You can see pictures of the research buoys at our website, publicradioeast.org. I’m Jared Brumbaugh.
For more information:
climate.unc.edu/CoastalWind – Original UNC offshore wind energy feasibility study – the full feasibility study generated by UNC for the state legislature
ndbc.noaa.gov – National Data Buoy Center – the federal government site where the buoy data will be available to the public in a tabular format, along with many other observing platforms around the country
nccoos.org/platforms – the website maintained by Seim’s group at UNC that makes the buoy observations available in a graphical format.
Emma Refvem is a science teacher at Riverside High School in Durham, NC. She has participated in several of my energy workshops so I was thrilled to read about a wind energy-related project she proposed on DonorsChoose.org on my Facebook page. Her $671 project was fully funded within 5 days!
Emma’s project is titled Wind, Environmental Justice, and Literacy in ESL Science and is targeted to her ESL Sheltered Earth Science class. According to Emma, her students “come from many different countries, and are eager to learn! However, the language barrier can get discouraging. Hands-on activities in which they can use creativity to bridge the gap have so far proven to be the most effective for these active children.”
Emma proposed that her students read “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind“, a book about a young man from Malawi who learned about and then constructed a windmill made of scrap materials for his village. Her students will then construct wind turbines from everyday materials such as cereal boxes, index cards, and paper clips. And then they will share their wind turbine designs via Skype with with students from Durham’s sister city of Arusha in Tanzania.
I asked Emma to reflect on her DonorsChoose.org experience: “Using DonorsChoose is a great way to invite parents and community members who want to be a part of your classroom to participate in developing the learning atmosphere. Parents of former students, as well as friends from my own hometown were more than happy to help fund the project. I hadn’t even reached out to our own PTA because it got funded so quickly, but they would have been another invaluable resource. It is a great way to get some cool resources to try out labs without having to apply for a more official grant. The only thing you have to prove is that the students used the resources, by making thank-you cards and taking pictures! It couldn’t be easier!”
I am sharing Emma’s story here in hopes of inspiring other teachers to propose hands-on projects at DonorsChoose.org!