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Wind Roses

Wind rose for the month of June, Raleigh, NC

Wind rose for the month of June, Raleigh, NC

Here is another idea for exposing your students to real data – have them create and/or analyze wind roses!  Wind roses are visual representations of the distribution of wind speed and direction for a particular location based on meteorological observations. Wind roses are useful in evaluating the wind potential for a site, comparing wind potential at two or more sites and assessing how wind potential changes seasonally. To learn how to interpret a wind rose click here.

Wind rose plots from the National Weather and Climate Center are available for 237 cities across the United States based on wind measurements for each month of the year from 1961-1990.  Wind rose plots for the following North Carolina cities are available: Asheville, Cape Hatteras, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington. Your students could compare wind roses for coastal, Piedmont and western regions of the state.

Students can even plot their own wind rose using the Danish Wind Industry Association’s Wind Rose Plotter Programme. Wind data from local weather stations can be obtained from the State Climate Office of NC (NC CRONOS/ECONet Database).

Who has seen the wind? Harnessing Alternative Energy (2010) is a lesson written by a NC science teacher and available at Learn NC.  In Activity 2 of this lesson, students assess wind potential of an area by evaluating local wind data and constructing a wind rose.  Sample wind data and instructions for using the Wind Rose Plotter Programme are provided in the student worksheet (NOTE: the url for the wind rose plotter program is not accurate, use the link provided in this post instead).


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.





New Energy Education Newsletter from the US Department of Energy

picture_0With 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 – 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 August 2016 newsletter is devoted to the topic of wind energy.

Click here to subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

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.

Watching NC’s Desert Wind Power Project Unfold

I had the opportunity to meet the Business Development Director for Iberdrola Renewables last week at the 2016 NC Clean Tech Summit and learned that the state’s first wind farm planned for Perquimans and Pasquotank counties is becoming a reality as roads are currently being constructed and, according to a Jan 2016 Facebook post, tower sections are ready and waiting at the Port of Wilmington.  Once construction of the first phase is complete later this year, 104 wind turbines will generate 208 MW of electricity for Amazon Web Services.

According to the Pasquotank Economic Development Commission’s information page about the wind farm, the turbines will be 2.0 MW Gamesa G114 models.  A two page fact sheet (pdf) detailing the features of these turbines is available.  With towers 305ft high and a total height of almost 500ft when a turbine blade is vertical, these turbines are designed to “catch more wind” at low to medium wind speed sites. Learning about these wind turbines reiterates one thing I learned at the NC Clean Tech Summit, that advances in wind turbine technology are making wind farms a viable option for NC as turbines can now produce power from wind speeds that might not have been sufficient in the past.  These advancements include increased efficiency of the gear box/rotor, innovations in blade length and design, and stronger foundations that enable higher turbines.

What a great opportunity to bring a NC issue into your instruction about wind & renewable energy.  I have included some resources below to help you and your students follow along with the development of this particular wind farm and encourage you to have students examine the pros and cons of wind energy as they evaluate this renewable energy source and this wind energy project in particular.  In fact, this wind energy project is ideal for fostering an issue-based discussion since students will be able to conduct research and find both advocates for and opponents of this project.  Check out this blog post for wind-related curricula including activities that have students consider the issues associated with the siting of wind farms.

Iberdrola Renewables is on Facebook and Twitter (@) where you can find occasional posts and photos on the NC project.  Check out this photo of a tower section arriving at the Port of Wilmington (@NCPorts).

North Carolina’s First Wind Farm, Pasquotank Economic Development Commission

The Amazon ‘Desert Wind’ Project: Benefiting Eastern NC and Beyond, NC Sustainable Energy Association

North Carolina Wind Energy Fact Sheet (2014), Southeastern Wind Coalition
 Please share what you are dong to bring this issue into your classroom.

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.


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.

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