Climate control drives most energy use in the built environment in the United States. Humans like to be comfortable, and they use energy to cool or heat the interior of their homes if they can afford it. One method to estimate the amount of energy required for climate control is the total of heating degree-days and cooling degree-days.
This activity looks at calculating the end-to-end system efficiency of two different types of water heaters. The first uses electricity produced offsite, distributed to a home, and then converted into heat by an electric boiler. The second uses natural gas in a combustion-based boiler. Both experience losses through the energy life cycle but in different ways and with varying effects.
Temperature is the weather metric most obviously associated with human comfort, but humidity is the real key. Humidity is the amount of moisture in the form of water vapor in the air all around us, and it really affects how we feel in the weather. Meteorologists use the term relative humidity, which refers to the ratio of water vapor actually in the air compared to how much water vapor air can hold.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that individual homes can achieve a 10% reduction in heating and cooling costs by leveraging the power of the programmable thermostat to change the set temperature by 7°F to 10°F for 8 hours a day.¹ Working as a group or a class, use students' preferences on comfort and what they know about weather and temperature trends to create a schedule for a programmable thermostat.
Every step involved in producing bottled water—from treating the water, making the bottles, and shipping it to its final destination—requires energy, and both the water’s quality and its location affect the amount of energy embedded in the process.
Natural resources are not evenly distributed around the world. Geographic features, latitude, and time of year all affect the solar capacity of a region. Different organizations including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the World Bank Group have created an atlas of solar resource data, which anchors this activity.
Most of the activities and explorations within the Watt Watchers of Texas portfolio look at individual actions focused on conservation and sustainable decision-making. This activity looks at some examples of international law, treaties, and regulation that affect refrigeration and air conditioning all around the world.
Air conditioning depends on a pressurized system of fluid repeatedly evaporating and condensing within a closed system in order to absorb heat from the air inside your space. In the past, air conditioners used water, ammonia, or carbon dioxide. However, in order to adapt to higher demand for indoor cooling, companies turned to different chemical compounds and synthetic fluids in order to achieve better cooling efficiency.
Changes in states of matter from gas to liquid to solid and back are all achieved by cooling and heating. This activity focuses on the very smallest level of thermal energy rather than the macroscopic level of cooling and heating in the built environment.
Humans have been seeking comfort since before recorded history. From the very earliest human dwellings to the mastery of fire, so many technologies are about keeping warm and cool. The advent of air conditioning is only the last line in a long story about humans taking control of their built environment.
Weather is an important factor in human comfort. Who has wanted to trade a 100-degree, full sun scorcher for an overcast 75-degree day with a breeze for an outdoor sports tournament? Or hoping for a warm, sunny day at the beach instead of a thunderstorm?
Before the advent of modern air conditioning, snow and ice were the main ways to keep cool on hot days. In the summer and in warmer climates, ice was a luxury used to cool drinks and cool bodies in the same way refrigeration and air conditioning are used today.
Texas summers may feel like they last forever, but many schools still need heating for the coldest days of the year. Central heating is common in most buildings today, either built into the original design or retrofitted through past renovations. However, central heating was not always an essential part of building design.
Most items made of plastic are marked for recycling with a number 1 to 7. These numbers indicate what kind of plastic makes up the item. In this activity, students will use their knowledge of the numbers to categorize different plastics. You can also pair this activity with Hunt for Recycling and explain to students that some materials are more readily recyclable than others.
The very first step to thinking about transportation as an energy and resource problem is identifying different modes of transportation. Many forms exist, but they all might not exist in your community. In this activity, students will identify the different modes of transportation.
After identifying and looking at the capacity of different modes of transportation, this activity takes a more problem-solving approach to move individuals from one place to another. If you' and your class are beginning to explore algebraic representation, there is an opportunity to extend the procedure of this activity into mathematical expressions.
Before beginning this activity, you may want to consider moving through Modes of Transportation or Modeling Public Transportation in order to gain familiarity with the topic at hand. The purpose of this activity is to model geographically how a public transportation system works in your town, neighborhood, or region. This is a mapping activity appropriate for groups or individuals.
In 2017, the Washington Post pulled together a national analysis of driving distance limitations imposed by traffic during rush hour. Based on the hypothetical scenario of attempting to drive away from a downtown area in America's largest cities, contributor Sahil Chinoy produced a series of graphic representations of the distance achievable when leaving at three different times.
The food (and drinks) consumed each day is students' most immediate relationship with energy. It's all around us, and it's inside us, and knowing how much energy we eat is one small part of the overall energy consumption.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses a recommended daily value of 2000 Calories (kcal) across all food labels. From this number and some handy math, manufacturers print the percentage of the daily value of each nutrient provided by the food. However, the 2000 Calorie diet is only a simple benchmark for food standards and labeling, and not always appropriate for every lifestyle, health condition, and individual.
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the requirements for food labels leaving manufacturers several years to comply. As a result there may be two different food labels on the products around classrooms, lunchrooms, and homes. Both labels have the same information about food, but the format differs slightly.
The simplest way to think about the relationship between energy and food is to recognize that food is a form of energy. Food stores chemical energy that bodies convert into kinetic energy to activate muscle power.
Gary Anderson created a recycling symbol in 1970. The three arrows broadly represent the three tenets: recycle, reduce, reuse. They form a continuous circle (more accurately, triangle) representing the ideal of sustainability.
There's no doubt that oil and gas have had an unmistakable impact on Texas. It is a major industry employing hundreds of thousands of people today, but in the grand scheme of the history of Texas and North America, oil and gas is still an emerging industry.
The lifetime of the East Texas Field stretches across one of the most rapid periods of change known to history. When it was discovered, the Great Depression was just beginning, computers were mechanical, and horses still provided farm labor in many places.
Natural resources are not evenly distributed across the United States or even across the State of Texas. Looking at the horizon you can see if you are near the sea or surrounded by timber, but other resources crucial to our daily lives are less obvious.
Bioenergy is one of the most important forms of renewable energy and has been employed for thousands of years. Cumulatively, bioenergy represents a greater fraction of the U.S. energy mix than any other renewable fuel source. Biomass solids are typically used for heat and power.
Though geothermal resources lie beneath all of the United States, they are less difficult to reach near active faults. The Mountain West, populated with active faults and tectonic activity, has the highest underground temperatures near the surface. Thus, it shows most of the installed capacity for geothermal.
The potential for generating electricity from solar power in the United States far exceeds that of Europe. Deserts are particularly abundant with photons, and flat land lends itself to the physical area required for large-scale solar panel installations. As a result, analysts and producers expect the southwestern United States to continue to be a hotbed of solar activity.
The wind corridor of the United States extends from North Dakota south to Texas, where winds blow reasonably fast, and the land is flat and relatively affordable, a compelling combination for the construction of wind farms. In fact, the U.S. corridor ranks as one of the greatest landed wind resources in the world.
The United States is a large country with many continental resources, and coal is one of those abundant resources. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the United States sits atop the world’s largest-known coal reserves, about 267 billion short tons. In global comparison, the United States holds more coal than Russia, China, Australia, India, and Germany.
Groundwater availability in the United States largely depends on aquifers, geologic formations which contain sufficient saturated permeable material to release water to wells and springs. Hydrologists generally group aquifers into aquifer systems, which can be classified based on their lithology, or the material which makes up the formation.
Students should be able to identify that irrespective of differences in tract size, the Desert Southwest has a higher percentage of food deserts than the Northeast. Similarly, the Deep South and Southeast has a higher proportion of food deserts than the Upper Midwest.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as areas of the country without any fresh fruit, vegetables, or other whole foods. For the past several decades, the middle class migrated to the suburbs from city centers taking their grocery stores with them, leaving only convenience stores.
Students should also create a detailed map of food resources in their area, classified by type and annotated with accessibility and time constraints. Then, they should evaluate whether their neighborhood or district is a food desert. How does the students' map compare with the Food Access Research Atlas?
Students should identify a single historical or contemporary individual that made a significant contribution to the fields of energy, chemistry, physics, environmental science, or a related field. Students should explain the relationship between that scientist's work and previous and following work in the field. Special note should be made of collaboration, cross-disciplinary work, and the contribution of any women, minorities, or people of color.
Leveraging the Minecraft: Education Edition produced by Microsoft, Careers in Chemistry is a new game-based experience aimed at showcasing chemistry-related career opportunities to high school students. The program features chemistry professor and science entertainer Dr. Kate Biberdorf of the University of Texas at Austin.
The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system always increases as energy is converted. Moving from fuel (high order) to heat or smoke (low order) is a natural process of entropy. Pollution with the highest disorder or highest entropy is the hardest to clean up.
While nuclear materials are part of the earth’s crust and have been for millions of years, the modern history of harnessing nuclear energy for power generation is relatively short. Nuclear fission was first discovered in 1939, and the first controlled nuclear chain reaction took place in Chicago as part of the wartime Manhattan Project in 1942.
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy in a closed system can neither be created nor destroyed but rather goes through a series of conversions from one form to another. The details of several conversions anchor the fundamentals of thinking about energy more concretely as a global industrial sector.
You May be asking yourself, "Where is Water, TX?" The simple answer is ... everywhere. It isn't a farm town out west, a getaway in the Hill Country, or even an ocean-side retreat off Matagorda Bay. Water, Texas encompasses our great state, in that every community has a source of water and innumerable uses for that same water.
Grocery stores don’t think the ugly produce sells, so they don’t buy it, meaning farmers have to get rid of it. Approximately 20% of all U.S. produce never enters the market but ends up left in the field or transported to landfills.
The Sun is the ultimate source of energy for almost all processes on Earth, from weather and climate to fossil fuels to the energy students need to get out of bed or run around the track. This activity relies on deep questions and critical thought to trace the ultimate source of energy on Earth to the sun.
Students can work individually or in groups to research one of the many dams in Texas. Students should use a variety of relevant print and digital resources to investigate their assigned dam. The investigation should include a brief history, including reason for construction, current status of the structure, and how the dam changed the surface water in the region.
Despite advances, today the global economy consumes most of its energy through only four technologies: the steam turbine, gas turbine, gasoline engine and diesel engine. The most popular conversion device is the steam turbine.
Primary energy sources include petroleum, natural gas, coal, biomass, flowing water, wind, and solar radiation. Those are the fuels that can be mined, reaped, extracted, harvested, or harnessed directly. Secondary energy cannot be harnessed directly from nature; rather, secondary energy is energy that has already been converted.
Solar energy represents a very small fraction of today’s energy mix, but also holds the greatest potential as an energy supply for the future. Used to generate heat and electricity, solar power is inexhaustible, clean, and free.
The word “geothermal” means “heat within the earth” or “the earth’s heat”. Vents of steam exist naturally around the world, where steam seeps or shoots out of the ground. Creative individuals have been harvesting these steam vents for years.
The market adoption of modern forms of bioenergy, including liquid biofuels such as ethanol from energy crops, municipal solid waste, and biogas from decomposing organic matter, are all on the rise. And, just like the other fuels, bioenergy has its own set of advantages and drawbacks.
While nuclear materials have been part of the earth’s crust for millions of years, the modern history of harnessing nuclear energy for power generation is relatively short. Nuclear fission was first discovered in 1939, and the first controlled nuclear chain reaction took place in Chicago in 1942.
Natural gas takes several retail forms, has several end uses, and is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. Natural gas is used for cooking, heating, electricity production, and as a feedstock for different materials such as plastics, fertilizer, and other chemicals.
Starting in the twentieth century, petroleum has been the most important of the three fossil fuels and remains the most popular fuel worldwide. Since the popularization of the internal combustion engine in the early 1900s, petroleum consumption has grown primarily for use in the transportation sector, as consumers worldwide have acquired cars and driven trillions of miles.
How we design, operate, and place our buildings has a bigger impact on our energy profile than any other aspect of modern society. That means the built environment is a good place to start for implementing efficiency programs.
Richard Smalley presented a list of problems in order of importance to society, beginning with energy and moving through water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy, and finally population.
The engineering design process is an iterative series of steps to ideate, implement, test, and improve ideas and their physical manifestations. Professional engineers follow this process developing projects and products, but the steps are simple enough to be applied across a wide range of concepts and industries, even in high school.
The water cycle is a global, natural example of the energy-water nexus, the integral relationship between the two resources. But you don’t need the whole world to see an example of this continually moving cycle.
The Sun drives one of the most important global processes: the water cycle. In this activity, students will work together to investigate different forms of water, how it moves through the cycle, and the ultimate source of energy for all of the different phases.
Humans have used dams since ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations restricted the flow of rivers and the extent of floods with earth and mason structures. Either simple or complex, the purpose of the dam is to control the flow of water.
Even in places where it is easy to recycle because of school-wide or community-wide initiatives, many people are confused about what and where to recycle. Students can help other students by creating instructive visual signage for waste collection areas.
Students bring their lunch to school for lots of reasons, dislike of school food, special diet, to fit in with other kids, etc. Many times at home, parents have the greatest of intentions when making or purchasing the food that goes into those lunches.
This activity focuses on the “reuse” theme of reduce-reuse-recycle. Students collect waste materials (paper, bottles, cans, cardboard tubes, fabric, etc) and find other uses for them either practically, for a school project, or as art objects.
Students have the opportunity to become part of the “recycle” process by breaking down used paper and recreating a new, usable product from the waste. This activity can be messy, as students produce paper pulp and then dry it to new sheets of paper.
Students may watch the garbage people come by and think that their waste magically disappears. Some may have been to the dump with a parent and some may have a compost pile or “dump” of their own on their land.
We use energy for everything and could not make it through a single day without it. But we rarely even think about how much we use, what kinds of energy there are, the cost, or the pollution consequences.