Teach the Earth > Energy > Course Descriptions > Energy and Your State

Energy and Your State

Wendy Calvin (UNR, NV), Sid Halsor (Wilkes, PA), Trish Kuberra (Campbell Co HS, WY), Alan Buss (UWyo, WY)


This is an idea for a course that provides a framework to examine the historical and contemporary uses of traditional and alternative energy sources in your state. The focus provides a more geologic context on energy resources, in addition to state-specific resource inventories and potential. This course is intended to serve as a template that can be adapted to your state and incorporates specific ideas and activities presented at the Cutting Edge Teaching Energy Workshop. This idea was generated at the Teaching Energy Workshop.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
High School to University level

Course Context:

Context is flexible depending on the institution.

Course Content:


a. What are traditional, alternative, renewable and non-renewable energy types?

i. Pre-course "Energy Savvy" Survey

b. Where does your energy come from?

i. Ice breaker activity – draw the socket back to the source. (Power Source activity)

II. Geology, Geography and Energy Resources

Goal: To better understand the interrelationship between geology and geography as it pertains to your states energy profile.

a. Geologic History of the Earth / Formation of Fossil Fuels

i. Where in geologic time are fossil fuels located?

ii. How does surface material become fuel?

iii. Types of fossil fuels (oil, gas, NPGL, oil-shale, tar sands coal bed methane)

b. State specific Geologic History

i. Your state's environment through time

ii. History, type and age of geologic formations

iii. Current geographic setting in relation to alternative energy sources (sun, wind, geothermal, hydro)

III. Energy Science

Goal: To understand the science that governs the flow of energy from resource to consumer.

a. Basic Energy Units

b. Energy Flow

i. EIA diagram where it comes from, where it goes

ii. For Residential, Industry, Transport what are sources, efficiencies, losses

1. How is electricity generated – power plant schematic

2. How are fuels used – internal combustion engine

iii. Earth Resources and Electricity

Depending your states uses and inventory may emphasize or eliminate various elements of this list.

1. Coal Fired Power Plant (~103 MW)

a. Coal Mining, (Wy, WVa)

b. Types of coal grade, combustion products and environmental impacts

2. Natural Gas Fired Power Plants

a. Methane sources

3. Nuclear Power Generation (? MW)

a. Uranium Mining

b. Waste and Storage

4. Solar Power – (? KW)

a. Photovoltaic, Solar-Thermal

b. What raw materials are needed for a PV cell?

c. Efficiencies, cost and area covered

5. Geothermal Power (~102 MW)

a. Hot Rock and /or water as limiting resources

b. Heat pumps and natural geothermal gradient

6. Hydro Power (~103 MW)

a. Waterwheels, Dams,

b. Impacts (destruction of community or historic sites, e.g. Aswan- Egypt, 3-Gorges-China, evaporation- Lake Powell)

7. Wind Power (~102 KW wind farm)

a. Efficiency proportional to velocity cubed

b. Locations, impacts (view shed, birds)

iv. Transportation / Fuel

1. Petroleum/Gas extraction and refining

2. BioFuels

v. Nationwide/Worldwide Production and Consumption of various fuel types

1. Fuel equivalencies in barrels of oil, BTUs or other measure

2. Have students perform quantitative comparisons

vi. Lab or Project Activity

1. Examples suggested include have the students build a windmill and test its energy output, compare PV, hydro and battery power in a bench-top lab.

IV. Your State's Energy Profile and Inventory

Goal: To assess your states inventory of energy resources

a. Is your state a net importer or exporter of energy?

b. What are the primary energy sources for your campus, city and region?

i. Where are they located? Use Google Earth to create maps or other geospatial products relative to end users.

ii. Field trip to local energy provider.

c. How much energy do you as an individual consume?

i. Activities such as "Kill-o-Watt" or "Lifestyle Project" to identify use and ways to conserve energy

d. Scale up that use to the campus, city and state.

i. Have students perform quantitative comparisons

V. Current Issues in your State or the Nation

Goal: To better understand your states specific social, political and economic issues surrounding traditional and alternative energy resources.

This area is very state-specific. Can incorporate case-study examples for comparison or group panel and discussion on current "hot button" issues. Examples from the collaborators include:

a. Natural Gas and the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania

b. Coal and Wind in Wyoming

c. Why isn't Nevada using Solar Energy More?

d. How long would ANWR resources last at current consumption rates?

Course Goals:

  • To better understand the interrelationship between geology and geography as it pertains to your states energy profile.
  • To understand the science that governs the flow of energy from resource to consumer.
  • To assess your states inventory of energy resources
  • To better understand your states specific social, political and economic issues surrounding traditional and alternative energy resources.

Course Features:

The context of this course is flexible and features may include:

  • google earth and GIS to explore distribution of state energy resources and their proximity to end users
  • create project and/or lab-based energy science investigation
  • case study comparisons
  • statistical assessment of energy reserves, production and consumption
  • carbon footprint comparison utilizing the Lifestyle project or future energy model and scaled to campus and/or state
  • Instructional field trips to local energy providers (or virtual if local providers not available), or field trip to geologic site with energy relevance

Course Philosophy:

This template afforded the opportunity to look for synergies among participants that will be teaching varying educational levels, at different institutions with different state resources. The expectation is that teachers will modify this course according to their needs. We plan to submit individual specific courses that will spin off from this template.


Homework and activities graded according to rubrik. Oral presentations, examinations, lab write ups.

Pre- and post course energy "savvy" survey, incorporating energy science, knowledge of local energy, and similar topics.


References and Notes:

Energy Information Administration - Official Energy Statistics from the US Government


States by Energy Source


States by Consumption, Price and Expenditure


State Renewable Electricity Profiles


NREL Renewable Energy Maps: Solar, Hydrogen, Wind, Geothermal, Biomass


DSIRE – Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency


American Coal Foundation - Coal Reserves in the US


EIA US Exploration Resources and Reserves Maps - Oil & Gas Fields, Coalbed Methane, Shale Gas


EIA Uranium Reserves


DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Wind and Hydro - Installed Wind Capacity, Wind Resource Maps