Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™
Cooling and Heating Activities
Overall, the built environment around us is responsible for more energy consumption than any other sector, but consumption is much more than lighting and computers. A very significant portion of energy consumption is hidden in the form of cooling and heating the spaces we call home, work, or school. Cooling and heating requirements vary by region and even vary greatly within the state of Texas. However, one of the ways to reduce overall energy consumption is maintaining best practices for cooling and heating efficiency.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.