Quiz: What You Don't Know About Energy


Photograph by Michael Melford

How much do you know about the power that keeps you cool in summer, cooks your meals every evening, and illuminates this computer screen?

How much energy from a coal power plant makes it to customers as electricity?

  • A quarter
  • A third
  • Half
  • Two-thirds

About a third of the energy from a steam coal power plant makes it to customers as electricity. A very efficient type of natural gas plant, called combined cycle, typically converts about 40 percent of the fuel into electricity, with advanced units capable of 60 percent efficiency.

What standard homebuilding practice guarantees large heating and cooling losses?

  • Locating heating units in basements
  • Installing double-paned windows
  • Using fiberglass insulation
  • Hiding ductwork in attics and crawlspaces

Hiding ductwork in attics and crawlspaces is a sure way to lose air. Scientists at Department of Energy labs have shown that 40 percent of heated or cooled air supply is lost through duct leaks in unconditioned spaces.

What country is the premier source of steel for nuclear power plants?

  • U.S.
  • Japan
  • Chile
  • Scotland

Japan Steel Works long was the only foundry that could forge a reactor vessel in one piece, seen as essential to reduce risk of leaks. But China and Russia now have the capacity, and new facilities are under construction.

Estimates of what U.S. fuel resource have grown 40 percent or more since 2006?

  • Natural gas
  • Coal
  • Wind
  • Geothermal

Estimates of U.S. natural gas have grown 40 percent or more since 2006, thanks to the success of hydraulic fracturing technology, making huge reserves now recoverable.

What global treaty has slashed world greenhouse gas emissions by 11 gigatons a year?

  • The Kyoto Protocol
  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • The Montreal Protocol
  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The 1990 Montreal Protocol, in phasing out ozone-depleted substances with high global warming potential, had the side benefit of eliminating the equivalent of 11 gigatons a year of carbon dioxide emissions by 2010—about five to six times the target set for the first period of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Does ethanol always deliver lower fuel economy than gasoline?

  • Yes
  • No

Yes. Because of ethanol’s lower energy content, it takes 1.03 gallons (3.90 liters) of E10 (the most common blend, which is gasoline with 10 percent ethanol) to travel as far as 1 gallon (3.79 liters) of regular gasoline. It takes 1.33 gallons (5.03 liters) if the blend is increased to 85 percent ethanol.

Are there any choices for electricity generation that don’t rely on water?

  • Yes
  • No

No. Coal, nuclear, natural gas, and solar thermal plants all produce electricity by boiling water into steam to turn turbines. Wind and solar photovoltaic power use much less water, but regular water use is still needed to keep the blades and panels clean or their operation degrades.

What solution is said to have potential for 57 percent of needed carbon cuts by 2030?

  • Space-based solar systems
  • Energy efficiency
  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Nanotechnology

The International Energy Agency's scenario for stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million would get 57 percent of the cuts from efficiency gains.

Do any cars run on coal?

  • Yes
  • No

No cars run directly on coal, but about 30 percent of South Africa's transportation needs are met by a diesel fuel that is processed from coal. When oil prices soared in the U.S., there was a frenzy of interest in coal-to-liquids there, although there are concerns about its high-carbon intensity.

Can solar power provide electricity when the sun isn’t shining?

  • Yes
  • No

Many solar energy systems have battery storage, allowing users to draw energy at night. Large solar thermal power projects are coming online that use molten salt to store energy for use after dark.





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