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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.