Sustainability

What is hidden energy?

Explore the bigger picture of our technological world, which goes beyond the charging of our devices.

Activity Image
Grade
10
Duration
1.3 hours
Type
Class discussion

Overview

Explore different ways that our technology uses energy. Your students will first play a game to compare the obvious energy use of different appliances, and then investigate the hidden energy impact of social media, cell phones and cryptocurrencies.  They will use critical and reflective thinking skills to write an opinion piece about energy use and cryptocurrencies.

Youtube: Tech Vision

Instructions

What you'll need

  1. Pull up the “What is hidden energy” slideshow and start with a brief discussion on what uses electricity like lights, our devices, and appliances. At slides 3 to 11, explore how much energy everyday items use. The answers and energy use are revealed on the following slide in watts, which is a measure for electricity. We know that each of these items use electricity, as we plug them in and pay our electricity bill. 
  2. At slide 12 consider how some energy use is not as obvious as when we post on social media. Let’s compare a famous person with an average person. Slide 13 reveals that the famous person has 240,000,000 followers and uses roughly 36,000,000 watts each time they post one picture. That’s equivalent to powering about 10 homes for a year. However average people using social media also have a hidden energy impact. A person with 150 followers and posting 2 pictures per day can use about 16,425 watts in a year. The amount of energy used depends on various parameters like the size of the post, the distance it travels, where your internet is hosted and how many followers you have. Essentially data takes an invisible journey around the world using significant amounts of energy to travel and be stored. 
  3. At slide 14 discuss technology energy use and consider the habits we have developed over the last two decades that have increased our energy use, like cell phone apps, music and video streaming. Ask students to consider how this technology is using energy.
  4. Slide 15 summarizes where the energy use occurs such as cell towers, networks, and data centres where energy is used for coding, running the servers, and cooling the systems. Have students read the article The secret energy impact of your phone for more detail on the energy and environmental effects of technology use. 
  5. Slide 16 is an image of a mega data centre where large banks of servers store data, consuming space and energy, which is often using non-renewable fossil fuels. Data centres have existed since computers were invented. They store, process and disseminate data and applications. However, as our computer and technology use has increased exponentially so has the size and need for data centres. 
  6. At slide 17 explore cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which are another source of hidden energy consumption. Have students share their understanding of cryptocurrencies and then play the 8-minute video, Bitcoins energy consumption problem which provides an overview of the complexity, energy use and carbon footprint of the cryptocurrency industry. 
  7. At slide 18 challenge students to consider one of two statements and write an opinion piece. Students can research and use articles and references to back up their opinion. Here are a few articles to share with students to guide them:
  8. Slide 19 includes some basic tips and guidelines to share with students for writing an opinion piece.

Modify or extend this activity

  • Pull up the “Sustainable solutions” activity to use critical and reasoning skills to research tech companies and determine true commitment to sustainability and green energy from greenwashing.
  • Have students research the energy impact of their own or a friend’s cloud storage, by finding out how much cloud storage they use and researching where their cloud storage company houses their data.

Curriculum Fit

Science 10 

Big ideas and content

  • Energy is conserved, and its transformation can affect living things and the environment
  • Local and global impacts of energy transformations from technologies

Curricular competencies

Questioning and predicting 
  • Demonstrate a sustained intellectual curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal interest 
Communicating
  • Communicate scientific ideas, claims, information, and perhaps a suggested course of action, for a specific purpose and audience


Socials 10 

Content

  • Environmental, political & economic policies: environmental issues including climate change and renewable energy 

Curricular competencies

  • Use Social Studies inquiry processes and skills to ask questions; gather, interpret, and analyze ideas and data; and communicate findings and decisions


Technology Explorations 10 

 Big ideas and content

  • Social, ethical, and sustainability considerations impact design.
  • Alternate energy sources

 Curricular competencies

Applied design - Ideating
  • Critically analyze and prioritize competing factors to meet community needs for preferred futures


Composition 10

Big ideas and content

  • Language shapes ideas and influences others.
  • Writing processes

Curricular competencies

Comprehend and connect (reading, listening, viewing)
  • Access information for diverse purposes and from a variety of sources to inform writing
  • Think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts
Create and communicate (writing, speaking, representing)
  • Express and support an opinion with evidence
  • Use acknowledgements and citations to recognize intellectual property rights

Teaching Notes

Hidden energy

Each day we charge our devices so we can use apps and create social media posts, often without considering that these apps, posts, and data storage use energy to take a physical journey around the world. In addition, data is kept in mega data storage centres where it is saved, processed, and the data and apps disseminated. Often the energy source used in this process is fossil fuels. 


Data centres

Hyperscale data centres are being built all around the world and contain IT products and tens of thousands of servers and hardware. This is in part a response to a rapid growth in cloud computing, SaaS (Software as a service where software is licensed on a subscription basis and centrally hosted), e-commerce, gaming and video services. Many large tech companies, owning and operating these hyperscale data centres, are responding to the climate crisis with commitments to use green energy and sustainable business practices. 


Smart sustainability

With the increase in information flow and connectivity in our world, we need to be discerning about how to interpret the information. Greenwashing is when a business makes incorrect or misleading claims about its sustainable initiatives. But many companies are honestly striving to be sustainable by switching to renewable energy sources and adopting other sustainable practices. The challenge is to differentiate between the two. A sustainable company will share proof to support its sustainability claims and targets and will be transparent and honest about its progress in reaching these targets. 

Assessment

  • Assess students’ understanding of the different ways that our technology uses energy, even when it’s hidden from us.
  • Assess students’ participation and listening skills in discussions about energy use and technology.
  • Assess students’ critical thinking and reasoning as they present their arguments in their opinion piece.

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