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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»

ngssSee how this Animation supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 1 Cross Cutting Concept
High School: 7 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts

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 Science

  • 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.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Animation supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

MS-ESS3.A1:Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, fresh water, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes.

MS-PS1.B3:Some chemical reactions release energy, others store energy.

MS-PS3.A4:The term “heat” as used in everyday language refers both to thermal energy (the motion of atoms or molecules within a substance) and the transfer of that thermal energy from one object to another. In science, heat is used only for this second meaning; it refers to the energy transferred due to the temperature difference between two objects.

MS-PS3.B2:The amount of energy transfer needed to change the temperature of a matter sample by a given amount depends on the nature of the matter, the size of the sample, and the environment.

MS-PS3.B3:Energy is spontaneously transferred out of hotter regions or objects and into colder ones.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1

Energy and Matter

MS-C5: Energy and Matter

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 7

HS-ESS3.A:Natural Resources

HS-PS1.C1:Nuclear processes, including fusion, fission, and radioactive decays of unstable nuclei, involve release or absorption of energy. The total number of neutrons plus protons does not change in any nuclear process.

HS-PS3.A5:“Electrical energy” may mean energy stored in a battery or energy transmitted by electric currents.

HS-PS3.A:Definitions of Energy

HS-PS3.B1:Conservation of energy means that the total change of energy in any system is always equal to the total energy transferred into or out of the system.

HS-PS3.B2:Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems

HS-PS3.B4:The availability of energy limits what can occur in any system.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Energy and Matter

HS-C5.1:The total amount of energy and matter in closed systems is conserved.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

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-C5.4: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems.

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