22ND ENERGY was a class assignment for the 2nd semester General Education Physics course (Physics 102) at Saint Mary's College (a women's college). The course itself focuses on global and national energy concerns. The assignment as given is shown below. There were 12 groups of 6 students each. The information below was for the 2107 version. Later versions used updated data.




SCENARIO: It is the year 2107 The population of the U.S. has grown to 450 million people but has stabilized at that figure. Due to dwindling supplies, high costs, and global-warming concerns, the use of petroleum and natural gas as significant energy sources have been severely reduced (10% of demand). There has been significant work done to improve energy efficiency and to conserve energy which has reduced the average per capita end-usage to 45,000 kWh/year (an overall reduction of about 25%). The needed energy is being provided by the following resources in the percentages shown:

COAL 15%
WIND 30%
BIOMASS 10%  (5% liquid fuels, 5% solid fuels)

OIL & NATURAL GAS 10% (Aviation fuels and other specialized demands.)

The need to store energy, especially from wind and solar sources, and to provide a viable portable fuel alternative to petroleum based fuels is being met primarily by using HYDROGEN and biomass based fuels. Some storage will also be accomplished using pumped hydro storage techniques.

PROJECT: Working in 12 teams, we need to detail just how all this might be accomplished. We will briefly explain the technologies involved, the capital costs involved in setting up the system, the operational costs to continue to provide energy, the land use, and any environmental effects. The 12 topics for the teams will be:














a) Each team will have 5-6 members.  Sign up your team by March 9.

b) Topics for each team will be decided by lottery on March 9.

c) Upon return from break, each team will be given information specific to the topic assigned to the team. There will be approximately two weeks to gather the needed information. 

d) Each team will then meet with the instructor to discuss information researched and to help with some needed calculations. These meetings will be held the weeks of April 2 and April 9.


a) Each team will develop a short PowerPoint presentation on their topic. This presentation needs to convey the essential information, both about the particular resource or strategy, and about the details of how this resource/strategy fits into this particular plan (number of units, capital costs, operating costs, land use, environmental impact, etc.)

b) Each team will produce a poster for display. The poster can use one or two standard sized poster panels.  Posters will be due on April 23.

c) Each team will produce a one page “executive summary” of their particular topic. One copy for each member in class should be prepared (65 total).

d) The PowerPoints will be combined and posted for the entire class to view. These will also be presented (by the instructor) in class. The posters will be displayed in the hallway outside the classroom.



PowerPoint -----50%

a) Team structure: You would like someone familiar with PowerPoint and perhaps someone with some artistic/visual design talent. You might want to appoint a team leader. You will need to handle your own “politics”.

b) PowerPoint: You will be graded on content, not glitz. In fact, avoid distractive animation schemes and ALL sound effects. Remember that your slides will end up posted on the internet and will need to make sense as static displays. Be careful about color combinations and font size. Legibility from the back of the room is essential. No glitz DOES NOT mean no pictures. Pictures and figures can be important tools for effective presentation.


c)  Poster: The poster is meant for a general audience. All the posters will be put up in one area with some extra information concerning the overall goal of the project. Posters are meant to be read by people walking in the hall. Such people WILL NOT want to go up and read long paragraphs of small text. [Hint: You should be able to easily read your poster from 5 feet away.] An effective poster will catch the eye. Be creative, but also be sure you communicate the essential information. The posters should present the basic parameters of the project—things like the percentage of energy provided, the number of basic production units (plants, generators, dams, etc.) required, the capital costs, other costs, the final cost per kWh, land use, and any other environmental effects.


d)  A general knowledge of the project as a whole will be expected of everyone and will be a component of the final exam. Your source of this knowledge will be primarily the posters and summaries and secondarily the PowerPoint presentations. 



This project follows the basic workings of a think tank. You will be building a model for energy distribution for the future which is both UNIQUE and detailed enough to be of general interest. Your presentations  may be posted on the internet, both as an example of a useful modeling exercise for other courses, and as a legitimate plan for dealing with energy in the future. Your projects, this year, will form a useful set of information for others—so take the project seriously.




After the teams are formed, a lottery is held to assign each team with a topic. Then the following information is given. 




450,000,000 PEOPLE x 45,000 kWh/person = 20.25 x 1012 kWh or 20,250 TWh


POWER (energy/time)

20.25x1012kWh/(365daysx24h) = 2.31x109kW or 2.31 TW


The amount of energy you will need to supply for each resource is:


COAL 15%                             3,038 TWh    3.04 x 1012 kWh    .347 TW    .347x109kW

OIL & GAS 10%                    2,025 TWh    2.03 x 1012 kWh    .231 TW    .231x109kW

HYDRO 3%                              610 TWh    0.61 x 1012 kWh    .070 TW    .070x109kW
NUCLEAR 10%                    2,025 TWh    2.03 x 1012 kWh    .231 TW    .231x109kW
WIND 30%                             6,075 TWh    6.09 x 1012 kWh    .693 TW    .693x109kW
SOLAR 20%                          4,050 TWh    4.06 x 1012 kWh    .462 TW    .462x109kW
GEOTHERMAL 2%                405  TWh    0.41 x 1012 kWh    .046 TW    .046x109kW
BIOMASS 10%                      2,025 TWh    2.025 x 1012 kWh   .231 TW   .231X109kW


Coal will produce only electrical power and oil only power for transportation specialized transportation—airplanes, trains, etc.

Natural gas will be used primarily for electrical generation where high-density power is essential but where nuclear or hydro power is not practical and coal might be too dirty.

Biomass will also be split 50-50 between solid fuels for electrical generation and transportation fuels—ethanol and bio-diesel.

Hydro, Wind, and Nuclear are pure electrical production.

While both solar and geothermal can be used for both heat and electricity, we will consider both to produce only electrical power in this project.

Each resource group that will be producing electricity will need to research a recent or recently proposed energy plant.  We will then standardize on that size of plant to determine how many plants/dams/generators will be needed. 

You will need to know:

   a) The nominal energy (or power) output of the plant.

   b) The cost to build the plant.

   c) The land use of the plant.

   d) The amount of fuel and cost of fuel (if applicable) to operate a plant.

   e) The OPERATING EFFICIENCY of the plant—this is a 2nd law type of efficiency,

        on average how close to the maximum output is actually achieved.

    f) The expected lifetime of the plant/generator/panel.

    g) Other costs—operating, maintenance, administrative, taxes, (decommissioning—

         nuclear), etc.


COAL:  You need to both research recently built power plants and the possibilities for newer technology coal plants that might mitigate some of the environmental problems of using coal. You also have to deal with the amount used and price of the coal itself. You will want to talk about the environmental impact of using coal and especially any new technology that might improve this. NOTE: We will merge your work with some of the work of the BIOMASS GROUP by using biomass fuel to co-fire your plants. That is, we will mix in some biomass with the coal. You will not need to do anything specific to accommodate this, but the Biomass group will end up using some of your information and calculations. 


OIL & NATURAL GAS: (no project group)


HYDRO:  You need to research the cost of building a big dam and also the capacity for adding new dams to the U.S. and/or importing Hydro power from Canada. We will assume however, that in the next 100 years, half of the existing dams will wear out sufficiently to need replacing. You also need to research the amount of land area that the dams and storage systems actually remove from the general use. Since you will continue to use some of the big U.S. dams (Grand Coulee, Boulder(Hoover), Glen Canyon, etc. you can research the land use of those dams.  You do want to explore the environmental impact of dams. While no new big dam has been built in the U.S. recently, you can use data from other countries or data for an older dam that we can update using the inflation data to update costs.


NUCLEAR:  You may need to research somewhere other than the U.S. for a recently built nuclear power plant—but even old U.S. data can be updated for current costs. You need to outline how nuclear power works.  In addition to building the plant, you will need to find out the approximate cost of decommissioning a plant—and what is the expected lifetime of a plant. We will assume that all current plants will need to be replaced during the next 100 years. You will need operating costs too. Look a little at waste storage and a little into proposed newer nuclear technologies.


WIND: You can find plenty of information about commercially available wind generators. You will need to decide on a size on which to standardize, but it should be in the 1-2 MegaWatt range. You will need the costs and the land use—basically the minimum spacing of wind generators. The lifetime of the units will be critical to our calculations. While manufacturers will be resistant to give a figure, you can find this information if you dig deep. Also, finding the operating efficiency is also critical because averaged over a year, the wind does not blow steadily enough to get anything near the full output capacity of a wind generator. Maintenance costs will also be important. 


SOLAR: You too can find information about commercially available systems. However, any information from experimental solar farms would be even more useful. We will concentrate your system as a PHOTOVOLTAIC system even though there are other ways in which solar energy could be tapped.  The lifetime of panels is important and of course the overall efficiency—averaged over a day or longer is critical (the sun does not shine at night). Land use will be a major factor as well as maintenance costs. You will want a primer on how solar panels actually work.


GEOTHERMAL: Research existing plants and project a reasonably large size plant on which to standardize. You will need to find the cost of such (Iceland and New Zealand may be good resources.) You need to explain the various ways that geothermal power can be harnessed--but concentrating on the production of electricity. Land use will be important as well as maintenance costs. Lifetime is also a critical parameter, but it will be assumed that we will need to replace all existing plants during the next 100 years.


BIOMASS (2 groups): You will take two approaches. The first will be finding the best crop that could be grown and then burned directly to power electrical production boilers. You will need to look at the NET energy output—since some energy will be involved in growing the fuel. Instead of having you build stand-alone biomass electrical generating plants, we will use your choice of fuel to CO-FIRE the coal power plants. To provide 5% of your 10% total, we will then build additional COAL plants so that in combination with your bio-fuel, we can generate 20% of the needed power (15% coal, 5% biomass). We will use information from the COAL group to figure the capital costs, but you will need to determine the costs of growing the fuel of your choice.  The other approach is to look at using crops to make liquid fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel. Here, to be useful, you need to find a process that uses less energy than what is obtained by burning the fuel (not always the case with ethanol today). We then need enough data to calculate the cost of producing a given amount of such bio-fuel so that we can provide 5% of the needed energy this way. The NET energy obtained will be critical, as will the overall land use from both approaches. You also will need to address the environmental impact of using biomass energy. 


EFFICIENCY GROUP: Your job is to determine how to use energy more efficiently so as to save 15% of the energy that would have otherwise been used. That is, how to save:


                                                 4,050 TWh  (4.05 x 1012kWh)   


that would otherwise be part of the 2107 demand. To do this, you need to explore current energy use in areas like transportation, lighting, heating, industry and then find reasonable estimates for how much more efficient we could become in each of these areas. For example, could the overall mileage of passenger vehicles be increased? How much? How many vehicles--how many miles—how much fuel is currently being used? We can then project to the 2107 usage and apply improvements in efficiency to this. Part of your job then is to figure out how much energy is currently used in these various areas and how much could reasonably be saved through improved efficiency. Cars, heat pumps, fluorescent lighting are a few of the things you will need to look at.


CONSERVATION GROUP: Your job is to determine how to use energy more conservatively so as to save 10% of the energy that would have otherwise been used. That is, how to save:


                                                 2,700 TWh  (2.7 x 1012kWh) 


that would otherwise be part of the 2107 demand. You will have to look into changes in the way we live and do things that could save this amount of energy. You will need data on how we use energy today and estimates of how much could be saved by doing things differently. Again, transportation is an area where one could imagine changing our driving habits in ways that could potentially save large amounts of energy. Like the efficiency group, you will need to know how much energy is used in a given way—say to commute to work, to heat a house, to light a city, etc.—and then find a reasonable estimate of how much energy could be saved by changing the way things are done. You might also explore areas like recycling—from an energy standpoint. You will need to estimate any costs involved in what you propose (mass transit for example) and/or determine HOW you will get people to behave in the more conservative way (car-pooling for example).


HYDROGEN GROUP: You will need to research the various ways in which we might use Hydrogen as a fuel in the future. Yours is really a STORAGE technique since we will have to actually MAKE the hydrogen. You need to research that aspect as well but concentrating on the ELECTROLYSIS technique where we could use electrical energy from wind and/or solar power to make the hydrogen. Explore hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen as a fuel for internal combustion engines, and hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas in domestic gas usage. Then look into the infrastructure changes needed to make hydrogen available for general use. This will involve converting existing natural gas pipelines into hydrogen capable pipelines. We need enough data to estimate the cost of doing such. This means knowing the miles of existing pipelines and the cost to upgrade such to hydrogen capable. We will work with the rough figure of 20% of the energy distributed will be in the form of Hydrogen. This amounts to 40% of the Wind and Solar output.


STORAGE: You will need to research and describe the process of using natural or artificial reservoirs to store energy via the technique of pumped storage. The largest such project exists along the shores of Lake Michigan near Ludington in Michigan. We might use such techniques to store a few percent (10%) of the energy generated by wind and/or solar so you will need the cost of doing so.  You should also look into other proposals for storing energy, including (but not limited to) newer battery technologies. 



Useful (perhaps) energy sites on the web. These are only a few of millions of sites, but these will be good starting places.





You have about 2 weeks to find information related to your topic. At that time I will schedule a series of meetings with each individual group. At that meeting we will use your information to do the necessary calculations. These calculations will include things like:


1) The number of plants, generators, panels needed to provide the necessary energy. This will include figuring in any plants that will need to be replaced because older plants have worn out.


2) The total capital cost—including debt service for your particular subsystem.


3) The total land use for your subsystem.


4) The overall cost per kilowatt-hour to produce your energy.


5) The actual energy that your schemes can save (Efficiency and Conservation) and any associated capital costs.


6)  The cost of infrastructure changes needed (hydrogen).


To effectively do these calculations in an hour, you MUST have FOUND AND ORGANIZED the appropriate data before the meeting. DO NOT show up with a fistful of pages copied from the internet and expect to be able to find information on the fly.  Any questions about the type of data or the appropriateness of the data need to be resolved (with me) prior to this meeting. If you show up with insufficient information, I will simply send you back to your searches, and that could delay your Poster and PowerPoint work to the very last minute.

After our meetings, you will need to prepare your poster, your PowerPoint, and your summary in time to meet the posted deadlines.  You will need to stay organized and focused to produce a quality project.



I will be available throughout these final weeks of the semester to help you. You can come in as a group, a sub-group, or as an individual to ask questions. However, I want you to make reasonable attempts before coming in and claiming we cannot find anything on……..  There is copious information available on all of the topics. You may have trouble finding a particular piece of information—and with that I can help—but it certainly will be possible for all groups to find a lot of the needed information on your own. I would expect, in some cases, that you will need confirmation that you have found relevant data, but I will happily look at anything you have found and help you evaluate it in terms of how useful the information will be to our projects.



It is wasteful and really of little use to print out every article you might find in your searches. If you are looking for a particular value—print out only the page that contains that value—or better yet simply copy out the number (and reference) into a notebook. Coming to our group meeting with 200+ pages culled from the internet is NOT useful. Print only what you really need.



The poster should convey the main points of your part of the project in a creative and visually pleasing way.  The poster should be easily read from 5 feet away. You want to highlight things like the number of units to be built, the total costs, the land use, and the cost per unit of energy (resource groups) or your primary schemes for energy savings and the amounts of energy that can actually be saved. The poster should concentrate on how your area fits into the overall project of providing energy to run the U.S. in 2106.


The Power Point is the most critical component of the project. Here you will provide more detail about the particular technology or plan that you propose to use, details about how you arrived at your various parameters (cost, land, etc.), and (where appropriate) something on environmental impacts. While you should avoid distracting animations and all sounds, your presentation should be visually appealing. Pictures and figures are very appropriate. Be careful of color choices, font sizes, and the like.   

The TECHNICAL level of your work should be at the Popular Science level.  If you are unfamiliar with this magazine—go buy one. This will give you a good guide for level of detail.


While the Power Points will be made available to all, it will be more convenient for everyone in the class to have a one page summary of your part of the project. Considering that each person will then end up with TWELVE pages, one from each group, you want to keep the information on these sheets to just the essential information. That information should (like the posters) concentrate on how your area fits into the overall project of providing sufficient energy to run the U.S. in the year 2107.


1) Four to six students per group--adjust the number of topics to fit the class.

2) The meetings with individual groups are important. The first is to be sure that each group knows exactly what kind of information they are to research. This meeting COULD be eliminated with individualized written instructions--tuned to each group topic, but I think the actual meeting is better. The second meeting (calculations) is essential for HS or liberal-arts level students. They will need help to do the conversions and calculations necessary.

3) Stress that EVERYTHING presented needs to be understood at the student level. This will avoid getting too technical and simply copying information straight from technical sources.

4) I found that the 8-12 page papers were too formal for this group, but I will need to push for a little more detail in the Power Point presentations in the future. I was disappointed by this work in 2005-07, but the fault is probably mine for not being explicit enough about my expectations.

NOTE: To prevent plagiarism of former student work, these have been removed from this site.