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Where does your energy come from? Analyzing your energy bill

Mary Savina, Faculty Career Enhancement Project at ACM Associated Colleges of the Midwest

In this activity students trace the sources of their electricity, heating and cooling, and other components of their energy use though the use of their family's utility bills and information from utility and government websites.

Activity is done mainly out of class, so assigned project time can vary.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
Many different units are used to quantify energy.
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1.7 Units of energy.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
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4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Amount of energy used can be calculated and monitored.
Other materials addressing:
6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
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G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
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A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:C) Resources
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C) Resources.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
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D) Technology.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
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E) Environmental Issues.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:A) Identifying and investigating issues
Other materials addressing:
A) Identifying and investigating issues.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Industrialization brings an increased demand for and use of energy. Such usage contributes to having many more goods and services in the industrially developing nations but also leads to more rapid depletion of the earth's energy resources and to environmental risks associated with some energy resources.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Students must contact their families to get a copy of a recent energy bill. Since this could take several weeks, it is best that this task gets assigned at the beginning of the semester, far in advance of doing this activity.
  • As an alternative, students may be able to access energy consumption from their school through facilities management.
  • A common source of confusion comes from the variety of energy sources used for electricity, heating and cooling. Some students will come from households where climate control - as well as lights, etc. - is all electric. Others will have energy bills that are split between electric units (such as kWH) and thermal units (such as BTU). Ask students to convert everything into kWh.

About the Science

  • Data on energy sources from different states and countries (represented by where students are from) form the basis for discussions about energy sources, including their environmental, societal and economic advantages and disadvantages.
  • For undergraduate students who do not have access to their family's energy bills, analysis of their college's or university's energy consumption in aggregate or per building may be accessible.
  • Confronts the misconceptions that electricity generation and cost across the US and world is "the same."
  • Comments from expert scientist: Instructor provides good explanations re what is expected of students taking this class.

About the Pedagogy

  • Personalized to each student, this activity engages them in using quantitative skills and research to explore energy consumption.
  • Can be used as a stand-alone assignment for a unit or be used as part of a final exam for a course.
  • As written, this is a college level activity; however, using local data and not requiring energy unit conversions, this activity could be adapted for middle and high school students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Necessary documents are available and could be easily modified and edited to meet your specific course needs.
  • Instructor must compile class data that can be shared among all students for analysis - instructions for this are provided.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

HS-ESS3.A2: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors.

Science and Engineering Practices

HS-P1.4: ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem

HS-P3.6: Manipulate variables and collect data about a complex model of a proposed process or system to identify failure points or improve performance relative to criteria for success or other variables.

HS-P4.3: Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

HS-P5.5: Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P6.5: Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

HS-P7.1: Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues

HS-P8.5: Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

Cross-Cutting Concepts

HS-C1.5: Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C3.5: Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C5.3: Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

HS-C7.4: Systems can be designed for greater or lesser stability.

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