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Global Energy Flows

Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, U.S. Department of Energy

In this activity, students analyze data detailing global energy sources and sinks (uses) and construct a diagram to show the relative scale and the connections between them. Discussions of scale; historical, socio-environmental, and geographic variation in this data; and implications for future energy use are included.

Activity takes one to two 50-minute class periods.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Energy Literacy

Access to energy resources affects quality of life.
Other materials addressing:
7.5 Access to energy affects quality of life.
Energy available to do useful work decreases as it is transferred from system to system.
Other materials addressing:
1.4 Energy quality degrades over time.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints.
Other materials addressing:
4.2 Human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
Other materials addressing:
G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
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C) Energy.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
Other materials addressing:
D) Flow of matter and energy.

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

  • Educators will need significant preparation time to facilitate this lesson.
  • Educators may wish to have students use more recent energy data from the International Energy Agency.
  • The resource material can be used for different types of exercises on regional/national/global levels. Students could be broken into different groups (regions) and share their pie charts and Sankey Diagrams and discuss what kind of policies might be needed to have sustainable energy development.

About the Science

  • All data in this activity comes from the United Nations 4th Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2007. Students may wish to use more recent data that reflects recent downturns in economic activity.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This activity set is well-written, easy to understand, addresses a very important topic for increasing energy literacy. The materials assume an instructor and/or student inherently understands the definition of "source" and "sink." Discussion questions are interesting and answers are provided. The use of real energy flow diagrams and data is excellent.

About the Pedagogy

  • The resource contains excellent step-by-step instructions for teachers and support materials for the students.
  • Students will require prior knowledge about renewable and non-renewable energy sources, basic physics concepts related to the transformation of energy and matter, and the joule (J) as a unit of energy.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The high-quality Global Energy Flows package include Teacher Instructions and Answer Key, Student Pages, Global Energy Flow Graph Slide Set, IPCC Chapter 4, Energy Consumption by Source Raw Data.

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