Visualizing Climate and Energy Data

There is no lack of data about how much energy people use around the world and its relation to climate change but putting the data together in such a way that people can make proper connections is what is difficult.  We have found a number of sources for data visualizations which really get people thinking about energy and their relative costs, risks and benefits.  Without using real data, it is impossible to know what are the best solutions for a world that is enormously energy-hungry but which is challenged to reduce the carbon emissions that are produced by most of the dominant energy sources currently in use.  The following table lists some of the best sources of data visualization we have found that help us make those connections more clearly.  (If you have other sources to recommend, please let us know in the comment area.)

Sources of Data Visualizations

Sample Images

Department of Energy: How much do you spend?  Each year, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes comprehensive statistical estimates that explore energy production, consumption, prices and expenditure, with historical figures and state-by-state breakdowns.  Using the newly released data from the  2012 State Energy Data System (SEDS), the DOE is creating  graphics and maps using aimed at helping people understand how everyone uses energy, and how much people are spending on their energy needs.


Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2018:  These maps show how Americans’ climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy support vary at the state, congressional district, metro area, and county levels, based on data through the year 2018. Public opinion about global warming is an important influence on decision making about policies to reduce global warming or prepare for the impacts, but American opinions vary widely depending on where people live. Public opinion polling is generally done at the national level, because local level polling is very costly and time intensive. The YCOM team of scientists has developed a geographic and statistical model to downscale national public opinion results to the state, congressional district, and county levels.  This enables better estimates of public opinion across the country and reveal a rich picture of the diversity of Americans’ beliefs, attitudes, and policy support by region. National surveys show that 70% of Americans think global warming is happening. The new YCOM model estimates, however, also show that while only 50% of people in Emery County, Utah agree, 73% in neighboring Grand County, Utah believe global warming is happening.

Electricity Map:  The Electricity Map depict the carbon intensity of the energy usage in a particular area. All greenhouse gas emissions (both CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane) that have gone into producing the electricity which is being consumed in an area (including electricity imported from other areas but used within a different region).  Calculations utilize a life cycle analysis (LCA) approach, meaning that emissions arising from the whole life cycle of power plants (construction, fuel production, operational emissions, and decommissioning) are included in the calculation.  The Electricity Map is developed and maintained by Tomorrow, a small Danish/French start-up company whose goal is to help humanity reach a sustainable state of existence by quantifying, and making widely accessible, the climate impact of the daily choices we make.  They develop and compute all the data for their map from publicly available data sources, published by electricity grid operators, official agencies, and others. To see more specifics on the origins of the data for a particular region, click on that region.

Our World in Data is an online publication launched by Max Roser in 2011 that shows how living conditions are changing. by providing a global overview and showing changes over the very long run, people can see where we are coming from and where we are today. This provides a better understanding of why living conditions have improved so that we can seek more of what works.  Our World in Data covers a wide range of topics across many academic disciplines: Trends in health, food provision, the growth and distribution of incomes, violence, culture, energy use, education, and environmental changes are empirically analyzed and visualized in this web publication. For each topic the quality of the data is discussed and, by pointing the visitor to the sources, this website is also a database of databases. Covering all of these aspects in one resource makes it possible to understand how the observed long-run trends are interlinked. Key visualization include: Energy Production & Changing Energy Sources,  CO2 emissions per capita vs GDP per capita, 2016, and Energy Safety.

Tableau Public is the place where people who have access to data can learn to use Tableau Software’s proprietary data visualization tools to generate both beautiful and interactive data visualizations (called vizzes) that bring that data to life.  Tableau software offers very sophisticated tools to help people both depict and interact with the data to bolster better understanding of data.  Tableau Public provides a platform that enables you to begin to learn how to use the Tableau tools and to see what visualizations others have published.  According to Tableau, “in 2020 the world will generate 50 times the amount of data as in 2011 and 75 times the number of information sources (IDC, 2011). Within these data are huge opportunities for human advancement. But to turn opportunities into reality, people need the power of data at their fingertips. Tableau is building software to transform the way people use data to solve problems.”

The Washington Post: Mapping how the United States generates its electricity. Using data from the Energy Information Administration, the Washington Post has put together an extraordinary data visualization that shows how the United States has generated its electricity in 2015. They have mapped every power source and categorized it by state, type and size, so we can see the way each state gets its energy. From this visualization, we learn that: There are 1,793 natural gas-powered electricity plants in the United States, which generated 34 percent of the nation’s electricity last year; 400 coal-powered electric plants — which generated 30%; 61 nuclear electric plants — which generated 20%; 1,444 hydroelectric plants — generated 7%; 999 wind-powered electric plants — generated 6%; 1,721 solar-powered electric plants — generated 1% and 1,076 oil-powered electric plants — generated just over half of 1% of the nation’s electricity last year.

US Energy Production Over the Years is an animated visualization of U.S. Energy production from 1993 through 2012 created by the Department of Energy as part of its Energy Maps series.   You can see how energy production for biofuels, coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear power, and renewables has changed over this period.  Left out is hydro-power or, alternatively, it is included in Total Renewables.  It is something of a mystery why this data is six years behind.  Additionally, the Energy Maps series clearly is not being well supported and is rather badly done, without even an Index that allows you to search the available maps.  What is provided is a drop-down list of topic words, which may or may not produce any results. Finally, the web interface formatting for these maps is rather funky.  It may help to click on the specific map, to reformat it, however, the quality of this website leaves a lot to be desired.)



The Visual Capitalist: Jeff Desjardins of the Visual Capital, along with a number of associates, both create and curate enriched visual content focused on emerging trends in business and investing.  They take a look at a wide array of infographics and data visualizations that enhance our understanding of the data that provide clues to trends, rates of growth or decline, and changes in prices to increase understanding of investing and company value.  (They also host some sponsored content, so be aware.) Examples of useful energy-related content includes: Visualizing U.S. Energy Consumption in One Chart, The Rate of Change in U.S. Energy Consumption, Visualizing the Race for Clean Energy, The Base Metal Boom, The Raw Materials That Fuel the Green Revolution, and the World’s Safest Energy Source.



The International Energy Agency: The IEA produces many reports about global energy usage and carbon emissions.  Since addressing carbon emissions is a global challenge and even the U.S. could not remedy this problem by itself, no assessment of where we on in our battle to prevent catastrophic climate change would be complete without the IEA providing evidence of that progress. Unfortunately, the IEA shows nothing in the way of progress against carbon emissions, despite growth in renewables.  This needs to give pause to those who believe that any amount of ramping of renewables by themselves will solve the emission problem, especially when all ramping of renewables is accompanied by even bigger increases in the use of natural gas.  Key reports that you need to keep an eye on include: Global Energy & CO2 Status Report, World Energy Outlook, Climate Change, Energy Access, Tracking Clean Energy Progress, and World Energy Investment 2018, among others.



Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL): LLNL produced this Sankey chart with support from the Department of Energy (DOE), using information available from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This shows the sources of the energy generation consumed in the U.S. in 2017 and the uses of that energy, reported in “Quads,” which is quadrillion btus, starting with the amount that went to generate electricity and then the flows into the various sectors of the economy, namely Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Transportation. The Sankey flow chart is a standard method of data display that enables a great deal of information about energy to be displayed on a single chart. Making the numbers readable sometimes requires a large display, but much of the important information is displayed using colors and line thicknesses.  To learn more about LLNL how to read the charts, watch this short, useful video produced by LLNL describing the basics of the Sankey chart.