This lesson about electric grids, electrical loads, and the sources and distribution of electricity in the United States includes an electrical load-balancing game, discussion, podcast, history article, worksheet, and interactive exploration activities.
This lesson helps students understand that electrical grids need to be balanced and learn about the sources of energy or fuel used to create electricity in power plants.
The podcast features an interview with energy management expert Harvey Michaels, who explains the inefficiencies in the electrical grid and offers solutions for decarbonizing power production.
The load-balancing game offers a memorable and kinesthetic way for students to understand how electric power plants balance producing and distributing the right amount of energy.
Students who have access to computers and the Internet can use Version A of the electricity use data exploration activity using the EIA's Hourly Electric Grid Monitor. Students without access to technology can use Version B, which includes images of the maps.
This lesson includes several elements that can be spread out over a week or teachers can choose to assign some elements of the lesson (e.g., podcast, reading) for homework.
After exploring information about their local power grid, students could make a poster, infographic, or short video/presentation to explain what they learned and propose ideas for making their local power grid more efficient and sustainable.
Science classes could use this lesson when discussing circuits, resistance, energy conversions, properties of materials, or renewable energy.
This resource includes a podcast in which an MIT expert is interviewed and discusses electricity generation and distribution and complexities related to the electric grid. After a brief introduction to electricity distribution, possible ways to incorporate renewable energy sources that are more intermittent that current baseline coal, natural gas, or nuclear plants are discussed. A transcript and educator's guide, along with additional resource links, are provided. This resource is recommended for teaching.
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
HS-ESS3-4 Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
ETS1: Engineering Design
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.
HS-ETS1-2 Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
HS-PS2-6 Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.