Sharing Inspiration 2021: Energy — the Elephant in the Room

Posted 06/12/2021 by Ian Galloway

The last session of Sharing Inspiration 2021 took place days after the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) had finished in Glasgow, Scotland. Effectively, this was the T3 contribution to the debate on climate change and sustainable development. The world population is almost 8 billion, and each one of the 8 billion people needs energy to survive. Developed countries demand 50 times more energy per inhabitant than poorer countries. The world population is still growing but at an ever-decreasing rate. Meanwhile, the ecological footprint of developed countries far exceeds that of the rest of the world, putting enormous strains on resources of water, arable land and, of course, sources of energy. Check out the website that shows Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

Energy use in tonnes of oil equivalent per capita

Chart courtesy of European Environment Information.
Chart courtesy of European Environment Information.


Indication of energy consumption
The chart above is ten years old but still gives a good indication of relative energy consumption. One ton of oil equivalent equates to approximately 12 000 kWh, so that Europe corresponds roughly to 100 kWh per person per day. This is primary energy consumption and is the “elephant in the room” insofar as discussion usually centres around electrical energy generation only. In COP26, for example, we see figures from the UK where renewable energy consumption is cited as more than 50%. This figure is far removed from the real value as it excludes primary energy and refers to electrical energy generation only.

With this background in mind, we used this quarterly conference to look at ways in which we might teach about energy use and attempt to stimulate those discussions which are so difficult.

TI-RGB Array as an energy meter
Franklin Neyt started the conference on 18 November with his exploration of using the TI-RGB Array as an energy meter. He discussed the way in which such meters can help us to control our energy use and production.

Franklin Neyt - TI-RGB array as an energy meter
Franklin Neyt - TI-RGB array as an energy meter


Focus on battery life
This fed neatly into Hans-Martin Hilbig’s session on battery life and the factors which determine how long cells last in devices. Looking carefully at the distinction between energy and power, he introduced us to the “white” elephant, the drain on a battery in standby mode.

Hans-Martin Hilbig’s presentation on battery life
Hans-Martin Hilbig’s presentation on battery life


Use of widgets in maths, chemistry and physics
Markku Parkkonen then showed us how students can use widgets to create their own digital answer sheets in response to exam questions or when doing homework. Diagrams are frequently needed in maths, chemistry and physics, and these are powerful tools for helping students to clarify their thoughts and ideas, not to mention obviating the need for pen and paper. Find more information on TI-Nspire™ widgets here.

Student project solar cells and batteries
In the fourth session, Cathy Baars told us about her project in which students carried out extensive research into the characteristics of solar cells and batteries using digital worksheets. In this way, the final session pointed back to the first three sessions and made a neat package of the four presentations.

Experiment from workbook that teacher Cathy Baars used at the Martinuscollege
Workbook experiment that teacher Cathy Baars used at Martinuscollege.


Challenges facing the energy industry
Finally, Harald Herzig, from the Mainova company, gave remarkable insight into the challenges facing the energy industry. It is very sobering to be told by a professional in the business that the cost of energy will have to go so high if we are to achieve what was set out in COP26. He made it clear that the elephant in the room was primary energy and gave a very good overview of what must happen in the future. He also hinted that lifestyles for people in the richer northern countries will inevitably have to change in the future if we are to meet carbon emission targets.

Photo from Unsplash
Photo from Unsplash.


Sharing Inspiration 2021 — and 2022
In 2021, our biennial conference Sharing Inspiration went virtual. This meant the conference was open for the first time to all European STEM teachers that wished to learn and exchange on STEM education topics. These were the topics we covered:

Ideas or themes for next year are very welcome. Perhaps we should consolidate the current position? We hope you will help us, and prepare for sharing your own inspiration with others in 2022.

Please send an email to Ian Galloway if you have ideas or want to give feedback on the Sharing Inspiration conferences.