Energy and Our Carbon Footprint
An average American’s residential and transportation energy consumption would require the burning of over 15,000 pounds of coal a year. That equals out to about 41 pounds of coal a day! If coal powered everything, every few days you would consume your body weight in coal.
Coal, oil, and gas are non-renewable resources, which means that they aren’t replaced quickly enough to keep up with their use. Eventually we will use it up! But more importantly, energy is created by burning them, releasing carbon into the air and creating global warming.
But there are better ways to get our energy. Renewable resources are naturally produced resources that don’t run out because it can be naturally replaced, like trees. But burning trees still releases carbon into the air.
Flow renewable resources are those that don’t deplete no matter how much we use them—like water, wind, and solar power.
This exhibit features two forms of flow resources: solar energy and kinetic energy. Scroll through to the next slide to learn more.
Curated by Melina Schauerman. Bicycle on loan from West Chester Green Team / Sierra Club. Solar panels on loan from SolareAmerica.
Energy and Our Carbon Footprint Exhibit
How A Solar Panel Works
A solar panel converts sunlight into electricity. This is called a “photoelectric effect.” Each panel is made of many glass and silicon cells sandwiched together. The top is negatively charged (n-type) and the bottom is positively charged (p-type). They are separated by a barrier.
When light particles, called “photons,” enter our sandwich, they give up their energy to the atoms in the silicon. The energy knocks electrons out of the lower, p-type layer. Electrons jump across the barrier to the top n-type layer and flow out to the circuit. This is the electrical current.
The current enters the inverter, which changes it from DC current to the AC Current used by our home appliances.
Solar panels and inverter on loan from SolareAmerica.
How Much Energy Can You Produce?
Kinetic energy is produced by an object that is moving. It is clean, renewable energy. Just by riding your bike, you not only lower your carbon footprint, but you produce enough energy to light up the lightbulbs that are on display!
Why are there so many lightbulbs connected to this bike? To get the same amount of light, different bulbs need different amounts of energy. The most efficient need very little energy. The least efficient – such as the common incandescent lightbulb, or the halogen lights that you may have outside your house, take up a lot of energy to light—and lose about 90% of it to heat (not light) that is generated.
Since around 40% of our household electricity is generated through carbon-based, non-renewable resources, it’s especially important to choose your lightbulbs wisely!
Bicycle on loan from the West Chester Green Team.
Understanding Your Carbon Footprint
A carbon footprint is the total calculated greenhouse gas emissions of an individual, community, corporation, or global population. It contributes to global warming and resource depletion.
The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average is closer to 4 tons. To have the best chance of avoiding a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop under 2 tons by 2050.
Our behaviors contribute to our carbon footprint. Choices we make regarding our energy use, transportation, food, clothing, and even what we do with our waste will all determine our own carbon footprint—and will impact the earth as a whole.
Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
Carbon Footprint Calculators were created to help us assess our collective and individual impacts on the environment. A carbon footprint calculator will measure many different behaviors that contribute to a higher carbon footprint, and suggest areas where we can work on minimizing our impacts.
Art + Design student Hannah Vannoy and Computer Science student Brandon Barker created our own carbon footprint calculator.
Try it out here! [link coming in June]
Carbon footprint calculator designed by Hannah Vannoy and Brandon Barker with support from the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, and an Office of Sustainability Research and Creative Activities Grant.