The US power grid is the world’s largest machine and one the most complex systems ever constructed. It includes over 8000 power plants, 5 million miles of transmission lines, and a tangle of computer systems making sure everything is communicating and working properly. This machine is also undergoing some of the most dramatic change in history as it is impacted by a myriad of emerging technological opportunities, policy changes and economic shifts.
1. Public Understanding
While utilities have done an excellent job teaching the students and public about safety around power generation, this outreach has not translated into a better understanding of the the overall system.
The rapid change in the power grid also makes it hard for the public to keep up with what is happening. Stories about renewable energy, energy efficiency, distributed generation, storage and electric vehicles abound and many people wonder what is realistic and possible. In addition to these technological changes the grid is also impacted by a variety of policy and economic initiatives primarily driven by climate change such as carbon taxes and Renewable Portfolio Standard mandates.
For the public to have a vibrant presence in shaping our electrical future we need to help everyone better understand how the system works and the challenges it faces. How are we educating students and the public about the system and its complexity so they take control of future energy choices?
Approximately 3.3 million people work on power grid and related infrastructure and this workforce is growing at 5% a year. A 2017 assessment by the US Department of Energy predicts that 25% of US employees in electric and natural gas utilities will be ready to retire within 5 years. The US Department of Labor also estimates that up to half of the current energy industry workforce will retire within 5-10 years; meanwhile, the average age of industry employees is now over 50. Where are we going to find all of the utility sector employees in the next 10-20 years?
3. Educational Opportunities
Students are already learning about energy sources, transformations and the science around energy (see curricula by NEED, NEF and a host of other players) but are they learning how it all comes together in a system as complex as the power grid? Should they be learning these issues? What are the critical questions they should be exploring in middle or high school. While the Next Generation Science Standards and Department of Energy’s Energy Literacy Guidelines can help guide our thinking we need input from all actors to make quality materials and activities. Who is going to develop an engaging platform that makes exploring the power grid fun!?
Our research into existing power grid educational materials found piles of videos teachers and students could watch, a few simulations, some pencil and paper curricula and then very expensive tools appropriate for the college level. Our team wanted tools that were more hands-on, more engaging. We wanted a platform that could be used at many levels, would open up conversations around these complex issues and also help educators address current science standards. We also wanted a tool to help students better understand how wind and solar fit into the big picture
The confluence of all of three factors are the reason we have spent the last 4 years prototyping, testing and evaluating a variety of Power Grid Kit Platforms. We are excited to continue the journey
KidWind Project | 2093 Sargent Ave | St Paul MN