Climate change, scarcity of resources and other environmental concerns are driving a worldwide migration to cleaner, more sustainable sources of electricity such as wind and solar power. Unfortunately, these less predictable, intermittent resources are being added to the fringes of a vast, interconnected power grid that was designed with central, dispatchable generation in mind. The challenge of “renewables integration” – keeping the grid stable and affordable as we migrate to cleaner energy sources – has become urgent, yet is little understood by the general public. Experts are concerned that needed grid improvements could be slowed or blocked by an inadequate power engineering workforce, or on the political side by a hostile or misinformed public.

Taking as our inspiration successful “edutainment” simulation video games such as the SimCity series and Civilization, we are responding to this challenge by creating a PC and tablet game called Griddle that enables players to design, operate and grow their own power grids, along with a high school curriculum to accompany it. Players will tackle real-world challenges such as meeting California’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) while keeping costs under control, or keeping Japan’s power system as stable as possible in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. In the process, they will develop an understanding of the historical operation of “traditional” power systems and the contemporary changes brought about by new technology and environmental awareness. This will enable them to participate more actively in the important energy decisions being made around the world, and perhaps even inspire them to study energy engineering and develop their own solutions!

Griddle is built upon the same electric grid simulation algorithms used in popular industry and research tools, but its true emphasis is on providing accessibility, engaging challenges, and appropriately paced learning. These qualities enable students to grapple meaningfully with the important trade-offs between reliability, cost and pollution that are inherent in power system planning. Griddle’s focus on engineering design, system modeling and the impact of human activity on the environment also mean that it aligns strongly with the U.S. Next Generation Science Standards for engineering and environmental science.