Monday, 11 June 2012

Energy (Top Trumps Style) Card Game

The University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute have decks of energy database cards (picture below) they hand out at outreach events in schools etc. The aim is to generate interest and discussion around the pros and cons of different energy options and the need for an energy mix in the UK based on the varying positive attributes across a range of sources.

The Dalton Nuclear Institute asked a few of us to look at renewing the content of the existing packs to make for a more interesting game experience, and to refresh the design of the current card deck. Below is what we came up with.

Content of this article may vary slightly as the printers make final adjustments and send us the high resolution versions

nuclear/energy card game
This is not the full size image, blogspot pictures have been scaled down, for full size image use link above

We weren't aiming to cover all electricity production methods but show major ones and some of the more interesting ones being developed - across different energy options, including fossil fuel, nuclear energy and renewables. Attributes are out of 100 and, rather than having absolute 100% accuracy, are slightly scaled to make the experience of playing the game as engaging and fun as possible for the target audience of school age children, whilst still getting across the key information.

If you have any suggestions for new cards, attributes, or if you spot any errors please let us know. To keep the game simple, we left some additional attributes and extra card ideas which were a little on the complicated side or not as relevant.

(Special thanks to @MiaFrancesK for suggestions with the design)


  1. One big error: ignores energy conservation measures! Not a spurious comment: we're asking the public to make tough choices between generation technologies without making it clear that reducing demand is a valid alternative.

    And it would score well across all criteria...

  2. Conservation is not a source of energy any more than dieting is a source of food or asphyxiation is a source of air.

    The only way to do work is to use energy, by definition.

    I will grant that some energy uses seem like waste to some, but the entity using the energy is paying for the privilege and doing work that they either need or want to do. I will also grant that some energy users only pay a portion of the cost since they do not pay for waste disposal and instead use our common atmosphere as the dumping ground. That needs to stop.

    However, I think it is a really selfish idea to promote the idea that using energy (doing work) is a bad thing. Society has a lot of work to do to make the world a more friendly and hospitable place for more and more people - we need abundant energy sources to perform that work.

    Uranium and thorium are incredibly abundant sources that can provide a growing quantity of energy every year and supply all human society needs for thousands of years - perhaps for as long as the sun lasts.

    1. ....which isn't to say gains realized through better efficiency are a bad thing, but I agree that efforts to use less as an objective in and of itself not helpful. Anyway, if you take a close look at many energy conservation schemes it turns out that often it's a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and the energy burden is only shifted, not reduced.

  3. I'd like to suggest a few errata:
    * erratum on “concentrated solar” – the image shows mirrors, but the caption says “lenses”.
    * erratum “concentrated (salt storage)” – the photo shows solucar which is not a salt storage facility. It should show (eg) Andasol instead.
    * possible erratum: a High altitude wind device doesn’t convert wind to “rotational energy”. Such a device, when operating will have constant rotational energy. So it’s probably a red herring to mention rotational energy. I’d be inclined to show the Makani prototype kite rather than this magnus device, incidentally.
    * erratum: “Geothermal heat pump” – the image shown (beautiful!!) is NOT a geothermal heat pump. It is a geothermal power station. The caption is OK; the title is wrong.
    * erratum: the “Hydroelectric” card has a description of pumped storage. This is not really correct. I would be surprised if the dam shown is a pumped storage facility; most hydro facilities don’t do pumped storage. They are refilled by rain water, not by pumping. (otherwise it wouldn’t be a renewable energy source!!) And hydro is the biggest renewable electricity source worldwide – I don’t think it is the biggest renewable energy source, that would be biomass IIRC.
    * To check – is “Tidal Barrage”'s photo really of a tidal barrage?
    * Erratum: “wave”: the energy is not captured “by breaking the wave”. Rather, the goal is to absorb energy from the wave. The discussion of energy density “not very dense” is garbled. The fact that the energy is “lost” (if it is lost) is a good thing! And wave power has a very high energy density in terms of watts per square metre, in fact! Far higher than wind. But if energy density is measured per unit mass of collector hardware then wave power is “low” energy density.
    Finally, I don’t understand why coal, oil , and gas don’t all have very high “energy density”. Coal, oil and gas power stations are all very compact.

    1. Hi David,
      You're right, there are a fair few corrections for version 3 of the cards (more now I've read your comments). There are reasons for a few of the issues, most are due to corner cutting as Dalton had a specific event they wanted the new cards for and I'm not particularly good or quick at the graphic design process.

      * Concentrated solar - That's a mistake from the original cards, should be "lenses or mirrors" (we were going to do cards for different types of concentrated solar, troughs etc but it got a bit ridiculous doing that for every energy source, so stuck with conc and conc w/ salt storage)

      * Concentrated (salt storage) - Struggled to find a salt storage picture we could legally use without getting int ouch with the owner at short notice (have one now) so picked a pretty picture. Same for Geothermal heat pump (still looking into that one), and tidal barrage (currently Swansea Bay barrage, not related to energy production but all the other freely licensed pictures I found were rubbish. We have one now).

      * High altitude wind - Unsure on that one, thanks for bringing it up. Will speak with some of the renewables people in engineering or friends in the Strathclyde Wind Energy Centre for Doctoral Training. (We were intending on getting the input of people in all the UKERC CDT's, should probably get onto that now)

      * Hydroelectric - Woops, definitely need to correct that. In trying to elude to it's other potential uses we seem to have missed the point.

      * Wave - Yep, someone's already given me a lot of stick for that one. It will be sorted for the next version!

      * Fossil fuel energy density - In our definition of energy density in the attribute card we take into account, areas for mining as well as waste (now you mention it, the name of the attribute is probably a bit misleading.) Then there was some arbitrary scaling to make the game more playable. If we stuck to straight energy density there were lots of high 90's and kids ALWAYS picked energy density with nuclear and fossil fuels and found themselves drawing a lot.

      Thanks for being so thorough when looking through these. It's greatly appreciated. Is there anything you think we've missed out??
      We make sure to send you a pack when the corrected version is done!

    2. Also (assuming you're the real David Mackay and not a very dedicated internet troll) are you attending the discussion between nuclear research students and members of the House of Lords Select Committee that worked on the nuclear R&D report?

      I think Lord Wade has arranged it and sent out invites and Lord Krebs is chairing the first half.

    3. No, I don't think I have been invited. DJCM

    4. That's annoying.. I think that Paul Hollinshead has been invited but I don't know if he's available to attend, or who else has been invited.
      It would be interesting to hear the views of at least one of you.

    5. Just saw the list of invites and attendees, you should have received one at some point.. Although a lot of people invited aren't available on the 3rd and a few are having to turn up or leave part way.. Glad my life isn't that hectic.

  4. Roberts DTC Wind Energy Systems21 June 2012 at 02:09

    Regarding the deep offshore wind.
    Hywind (Statoil) utilises a spar-type floater and uses a 3 blade Siemens wind turbine.
    Windfloat (EDP, PrinciplePower etc) uses a semi submersible three column floater with active ballasting system. The same as Hywind it uses a 3 blade wind turbine (Vestas).

    There are, however, a few projects with 2 bladded wind turbines proposed (nautica etc) but none of them have seen light as yet.

    P.S. I would suggest getting maybe a nice profile picture of Hywind instead for deep offshore wind.

    1. That's brilliant, thanks.
      Massive oversight on our part about the two blades.

      As for picture there are licencing issues. The best one I've found that we can use is:

      But ideally I want to use this one, but can't find who owns it:
      Some companies have pages of pictures and you can ask for permission to use them. I can't seem to find that for the hywind project!

  5. I really appreciate your blog and have gained so much neede information. A sincere thanks to you.

    Top Energy Resources

  6. Hi, I am writing to you from Turkey. I have a daughter who is studying high schools and she has a project about ''renewable energy ''. There is a game in her homework. If it does not mind, she wants to use this playing cards. I think these cards are for play purposes, how can we play cards, what are the rules?