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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.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices

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
Other materials addressing:
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.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS3-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

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.

HS-ESS3.C:Human Impacts on Earth Systems

HS-LS2.C2:Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced by human activity) in the environment—including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change—can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter

HS-C3.1:The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

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-C4:Systems and System Models

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.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P4.6: Analyze data to identify design features or characteristics of the components of a proposed process or system to optimize it relative to criteria for success.

HS-P5.1:Create and/or revise a computational model or simulation of a phenomenon, designed device, process, or system.

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.).

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