Educator Toolkit: Energy Economics

by Diana Drake

Why This Matters Now

While energy economics may sound like a daunting topic, it is actually a dynamic area of discussion, drawing on everything from global economic policy and leadership skills, to social impact. Energy economics refers to the supply and use of energy in societies around the world. A great start to any discussion of energy would be to define exactly what it is. We all require energy to function, which we get from resources such as fossil fuels, nuclear fuel or renewable energy. This energy generates power for cars, lights, machines, cell phones, literally everything that keeps society moving, living and producing. The fact that energy is so fundamental to society’s survival leads to great opportunities for exploring how related goods and services are produced and consumed and how governments are forced to choose better policies. For example, in the Global Youth article A Teen from the United Arab Emirates Considers a New Era of Taxation, we read about the gulf nations’ reliance on oil to fuel their economies and how the International Monetary Fund, an organization that oversees the global financial system, has repeatedly urged the gulf region to diversify their revenues away from oil. The 2015 oil crisis sent oil prices spiraling downwards and quite literally hammered Arab economies. A history lesson in the 1973 oil crisis sparked by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo could help set the stage for the influence of oil on global politics and the global economy. The Wharton Global Youth articles, lesson plans and activities in this toolkit will help educators and students explore the various engaging angles of energy economics.


Social Innovator Hannah Herbst Uses Water Power to Tackle Energy Poverty
Energy poverty is a compelling concept, especially following a conversation about all the ways that society uses energy. Many people, primarily in developing countries, lack access to modern energy services and, as a result, face challenges conducting some of the most basic activities, like doing their homework by electric light when the sun goes down. Access to energy is at the heart of many social problems, and experts point out that improving the ability of people to gain access to affordable, reliable energy could help mitigate the effects of poverty and a host of related challenges, such as access to clean water, food, health care, adequate housing and clean environments. This Global Youth article introduces students to Hannah Herbst, a 17-year-old from Florida who was inspired by a grade school pen pal in Africa to use engineering to invent new, more efficient ways to generate energy around the world. Encourage students to explore energy poverty further through the Related Links and Conversation Starters that accompany the article. As they build their knowledge, they should also begin to think more critically about the topic and join in the article’s discussion thread, not only to answer the conversation starters, but to express their ideas and opinions about any aspect of the article or broader topic that awakens their curiosity.

Lesson Plan
Global Leadership and Climate Change
The World Economic Forum, held each year in Davos, Switzerland, develops the Global Risks Report in collaboration with Wharton’s Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. The big message that came out of the 2018 report: The tremendous importance of the environment and how issues like global warming affect other types of risks. “You begin to see clear arrows that go from climate change to food security, to natural disasters, to droughts, and to a set of things that can happen,” explained Howard Kunreuther, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions and co-director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. Climate change and renewable energy are fundamental to today’s global energy economics landscape. In this lesson plan, students will begin by discussing their knowledge on climate change and then they will work in groups to develop their own strategies to combat the issue. They will use their global leadership skills to solve one of the world’s most pressing issues facing the energy economy.

Hands-on Learning
The energy economy can be a hot-button issue. For example, global warming is a controversial topic. U.S. president Donald Trump has raised doubts about the cause of global warming and has even called climate change a hoax or a joke. He and other politicians do not hold the same views as many scientists who say that the earth’s temperature is on the rise and that the traditional fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum are contributing to the air pollution that causes global warming. Clearly, the opinions of top policy-makers will impact lawmaking in areas like pollution control and renewable energy projects – and already are. Where do your students fall in this discussion? As you begin to learn more about energy economics and issues like climate change and renewable energy, encourage discussion and even debate among students in the classroom. Do you have one or more students with especially strong positions on either side of the argument? Assign a 700-word essay in which they express their viewpoints on the topic, involving everything from personal stories, policy issues, business implications and innovation. Allow flexibility for a variety of responses. After teachers have read these pieces, submit the top three from your class to Knowledge@Wharton High School. The best essays from different classes will be published on the Wharton Global Youth website, and when they are, students will complete this assignment by commenting in the discussion thread for the article. Do they agree or disagree with their classmate’s perspective and why? Contact us here if you are interested in submitting one or more of your students’ essays for review. We hope to hear from you!

Video Glossary
Provide an extra layer of learning for your students with our video glossary. Here, Wharton professors define terms: Economic Policy, Economics, Renewable Energy and World Economic Forum.

WGYP Quote of the Month
“I had been connected with Ruth since 4th grade, but I never realized how impactful her problems could be – not having lights to study by at night, not having sanitation systems, having limited medical treatment. I had no idea that people were living around the world without energy.” – Hannah Herbst, 17 and the developer of BEACON, a device that takes energy from moving water and converts it to usable electricity

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