General Science

29
Jan

A Firsthand Understanding of Our Energy Landscape

Right now, this moment, as I type, off the top of my head, I can count at least 7 devices in my cubicle that require electrical energy in order to function.  That’s not counting our office’s overhead lighting system, the heating, or any of the other building-wide stuff.  I’m just talking about things I can pick up.  My laptop, its external monitor, my phone, my other phone, the lamps that I use at night to keep my space bright and work-friendly, the coffeemaker that keeps me bright and work-friendly…every one of these things requires electricity, and I use each of them every day, for hours.  Often, I use energy without even thinking about it.  The bills are paid, and services keep coming, seemingly limitless in supply.

The truth, however, isn’t nearly so idyllic.  In the United States, we burn more than 100,000 tons of coal and nearly 800,000 barrels of oil every hour of every day in order to meet our energy needs.  Coal and oil are fossil fuels, and they are anything but limitless.  What’s more, their conversion into usable energy pollutes our environment and is a contributing factor of climate change.  Our energy needs only continue to rise as our society becomes more and more reliant on electrical devices, so one sometimes wonders why technologies like Sweden’s Lillgrund Wind Farm or the SEGS solar arrays in California haven’t been leveraged effectively to solve our energy problems.

With NOVA’s Energy Lab, students learn just how complicated our energy crisis is despite the development of new tools.  Through a series of video modules, students hear just how energy is defined, and about how we convert energy from various sources into the kinds of power we need in our daily lives.  Students explore the promise of renewable energies like wind and solar, but they also learn about the challenges associated with using those renewables on a larger scale.

 

Once students have wrapped their minds around the contexts of today’s energy landscape, they jump into the online lab space and learn firsthand how complex the battle for clean renewable energy is.  The Energy Lab’s Research Challenge charges students with the task of building efficient new energy infrastructures for cities across the U.S.  Students use real scientific data gathered from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to organize systems using renewable sources.  There’s added incentive in this lab, as students compete with others to see whose designs can, given cost constraints, produce the most power.

As with all NOVA Labs, the Energy Lab includes an Educator Guide that can help you think of ways to use the Labs as a productive part of your classroom experience.  NOVA Education has also produced a webinar to help walk teachers through the online resource.

All in all, the Energy Lab is a great opportunity for students to use tools provided by NOVA to learn through experience about the challenges of energy production and consumption.  Far from being a service taken for granted on a daily basis, NOVA’s Energy Lab helps put energy usage in the foreground for future professionals, a space in which it will need to remain if those future professionals are to solve our looming energy challenges.

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Scott Asakawa

As Outreach Coordinator for NOVA, Scott works to inform the formal and informal educator communities on the multitude of resources NOVA has created to increase STEM understanding. A former classroom educator, Scott received his B.A. from UC Santa Cruz in the History of Art and Visual Culture, and earned his Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Mind, Brain, and Education.