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Our Energy System

The National Academy of Sciences

This interactive diagram from the National Academy of Sciences shows how we rely on a variety of primary energy sources (solar, nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal, natural gas, coal, biomass, oil) to supply energy to four end-use sectors (residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation). It also focuses on lost or degraded energy.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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

About the Content

  • This interactive diagram is based on the energy flow diagram produced by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2014. The data are from the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy from 2003 through 2015. The data is updated regularly and may be more recent than what is described here.
  • Data sources and dates are provided at the bottom of the diagram.
  • This is a Sankey diagram. Schmidt, M., 2008, Journal of Industrial Ecology, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 82-94. See also http://www.sankey-diagrams.com for more information.
  • Comments from expert scientist: There is a lot of good information presented in the main chart, with tabs to pursue further research related to specific types of electricity sources. The chart design is clear and inviting to viewers. There are links to follow within each of the individual energy source tabs to learn more about the energy sources.
    Note that under "Our Energy System," the "Nuclear" tab does not address the lifecycle emissions associated with building nuclear energy facilities (such as large cooling towers). Also, it would have been nice if the designers had emphasized the units for each of the individual tabs ("nuclear," "hydropower" etc.). As is, it is initially a bit confusing as to whether the individual tab numbers reflect quads or percentages.

About the Pedagogy

  • Excellent tool to show the sources of energy consumed in the U.S. and what happens along the way between energy production and consumption.
  • The questions that must be emphasized are: 1) what is "unused" energy? 2) why does it account for nearly 60 percent of our overall energy use? and 3) why is energy conservation and efficiency so crucial?

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Scroll over or click on text within graphic to show more information/data.
  • The interface is complex and may lead to some users becoming lost without guidance.
  • Lots of information at many levels.
Entered the Collection: February 2018 Last Reviewed: June 2016

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