Texas Wins Big: NEED State Program of the Year

NEED – the National Energy Education Development Project – is an organization that teaches people how to teach about energy. Even though the concept of energy education might sound simple at first – too many people think that if they teach about one energy source, they’re teaching about energy in general.

In the NEED Primary Science of Energy curriculum, they discuss petroleum, coal, solar energy, uranium, biomass, hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy, propane, natural gas and light.

Texas was selected as NEED’s State Program of the Year because of the diverse and dedicated partners providing energy education opportunities to students, teacher, and families in Texas.

HMNS, along with other Texas partners, was recognized at the 29th Annual Youth Awards for Energy Achievement for the Museum’s commitment to NEED and the programs in Texas, as well as our commitment to energy education in general.

Niagara Falls Hydro Plant
Creative Commons License photo credit: gobanshee1

But it’s not just about giving the teachers facts and figures. The fastest way for teachers to get students excited is to get the teachers excited -  and NEED activities do just that.

Before receiving the award, we completed a test run of their new hydropower curriculum. I spent a few hours with elementary school teachers and kids, putting together a water-powered wheel that would lift paperclips.  The exciting part was watching the kids come up with ideas and innovations to make the water-powered wheels run more efficiently and do more work.

To learn more about energy education, check out our previous entries in the blog’s Energy category.

Measure for Measure…How much energy is there?

How much energy is there?  How much is the world using? You can spend hours and hours investigating the finer points of that topic—and plenty of people spend their whole lives on it. Does that sound like fun, or what? Before you jump in, a few basics are in order.

back alley
Creative Commons License photo credit: tvol

A barrel is 42 gallons of oil. Although the actual familiar steel drum is used less and less these days, the somewhat arbitrary 42 gallons remains the worldwide definition of a barrel.

Natural gas is normally measured in cubic feet. Because the volume of a gas changes based on its pressure and temperature, different groups have different standard conditions, resulting in slightly different amounts of natural gas per cubic foot.
To get some kind of grand total that makes any sense, we need a standardized unit of measurement for gases, liquids and all other forms of energy. Since all forms of energy can be converted to heat, one approach is to use heat as the basis for measuring energy.  We can measure that heat in British Thermal Units, or BTU. One BTU is the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit, which happens to be just about equal to the energy of a burning match.

When we are trying to measure huge quantities of energy on a global level, we can convert everything (barrels of oil, cubic feet of natural gas) to BTU, resulting in amounts that are in the thousands of trillions of BTU—or quadrillions—10 raised to the 15th exponential power, which is a 1 with 15 zeros after it (1,000,000,000,000,000). To simplify things, we refer to one quadrillion BTU as a “quad.”

But sometimes people measure energy in kilowatt-hours (as on your electric bill), or maybe in joules. The conversions for those are as follows:

1 kilowatt-hour = 3,412 BTU = 3,600,000 joules

(Thus, as you can see, a BTU is roughly about 1,000 joules.)

Creative Commons License photo credit: nestor galina

There are plenty of statistical mavens who prefer to use the “oil-equivalent” approach, which converts everything to the equivalent of almighty oil, either in “barrels oil equivalent” (BOE), or tonnes (the metric ones) oil equivalent (TOE). As in the previous examples, the numbers being compared are generally quite large, so we usually see MBOE or MTOE, the “M” signifying millions.

1 MTOE =  0.0397 quad = 6.75 MBOE

Practically all your quantitative conversionary questions can be answered at this handy site, which can calculate between just about any units you can imagine:

In 2005, the world consumed somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 x 1018 joules, or about 474 quads, or 139 x 1012 kilowatt-hours of energy from all sources. About 80% of that amount came from fossil fuels, with the rest from nuclear energy, alternative fuels and renewables. BP releases a nifty little study on the state of global energy every year.

The remaining recoverable fossil fuel energy worldwide is estimated by “Wikipedia sources” at about 379,000 quads (huge amounts of energy are locked in “unconventional” sources such as gas hydrates).

In The Sun
Creative Commons License photo credit: krisdecurtis

Another 2.37 million quads from uranium (nuclear power) remain. Both these sums are dwarfed by just one year of the total amount of solar energy that hits the earth, a whopping 3.6 million quads annually.  However you want to measure it, there’s a LOT of energy out there

…or then again, maybe the whole universe could have a sum total of no energy at all .

Chew on that for a little bit and get back to me.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (5.6.08)

rock climbing
Creative Commons License photo credit: kumon

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

They’re probably going to need some fungi: prospectors are going wild for uranium all along the Grand Canyon. (Via)

But hopefully not chrytid fungi - it’s destroying frog populations worldwide. Scientists are studying amphibians in Madagascar to try and save them.

Sometimes, it pays to be dumb: ironically, scientists prove that smarter isn’t necessarily better, when it comes to survival.

We don’t even have robot maids yet – but scientists at Duke University have taken the first steps towards creating autonomous robot surgeons.

If you haven’t taken a crack at curating yet – your time is running out. Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition gives you a say in what The Brooklyn Museum puts on display – but only through May 23. It’s fun! So head over and make your opinion count.