A guest blog written by Matthew Inman, U.S. Department of Energy

What We’re Doing & Why

To better educate Americans, The U.S. Department of Energy is leading a collaborative effort, the Energy Literacy Initiative (ELI), to define and promote energy literacy. If more people had a basic understanding of energy, energy resources, generation and efficiency, families and businesses could make more informed decisions on ways to save money by saving energy. More broadly, people would better understand the energy landscape, allowing them to better understand local, national and international energy policy. Current national and global issues such as safeguarding the environment and our nation’s energy security highlight the need for energy education.

The Energy Literacy Guiding Document

Central to the effort to promote energy literacy nationwide is the guiding document, Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education. This document was released in March of 2012 and is available for download at:


Energy Literacy presents energy concepts that, if understood and applied, will help individuals and communities make informed energy decisions. The guide identifies seven Essential Principles and a set of Fundamental Concepts to support each principle. The guide does not seek to identify all areas of energy understanding, but rather to focus on those that are essential for all citizens.

The Energy Literacy Community

DOE’s energy literacy efforts bring together stakeholders from federal agencies, universities, community colleges, professional societies, national labs, power utilities, museums, community organizations, business and industry, interested members of the public and more. Through public meetings and online collaborative tools, stakeholders contributed a great deal, informing the guiding document and demonstrating a passion for energy education. Stakeholder input helped create a thoughtful, measured approach to energy literacy and a quality document.

What’s in the document? – The document provides context, background and definitions, along with identifying the essential principles and fundamental concepts that underlie energy literacy. An inherently interdisciplinary topic, energy education involves civics, geography, social studies, history, economics, sociology, technology, engineering, and the natural sciences. Energy Literacy addresses all of these subjects. The guide highlights what is essential for all citizens to know.

The guide identifies seven Essential Principles:

    1. Energy is a physical quantity that follows precise natural laws.
    2. Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow through the Earth system.
    3. Biological processes depend on energy flow through the Earth system.
    4. Various sources of energy can be used to power human activities, and often this energy must be transferred from source to destination.
    5. Energy decisions are influenced by economic, political, environmental, and social factors.
    6. The amount of energy used by human society depends on many factors.
    7. The quality of life of individuals and societies is affected by energy choices.

Who and what is the document for?

Although everyone is encouraged to read and use Energy Literacy, it is specifically intended for the energy educator. The document is intended for use in multiple contexts and as a guide for energy education at all age levels. For example, formal educators such as K-12 and university educators will use it as a resource for curriculum design, and for standards and assessment development. Community, museum and library educators will use it as a resource when designing education and outreach opportunities specific to their venues and audiences. Ultimately, the goal of ELI is to foster a culture of smart energy decisions in business, at home, and throughout our communities on a national level.

We have the document, now what?

Because Energy Literacy is not a curriculum, a second phase to the project is essential. This phase is focusing on the development of education and outreach materials to accompany the guide, helping lay a foundation for energy education nationwide. DOE is calling on educators, academic institutions, federal agencies, industry, organizations, and beyond to increase support for energy education. Success in meeting the energy education challenge depends on the involvement and efforts of institutions and individuals nationwide.

Working with partners like NEED, this guide will continue to inform, guide, and provide a framework for future curriculum development.  NEED’s substantial curriculum portfolio goes a long way toward the goals of energy literacy.  NEED teachers and students are doing great work increasing energy knowledge in their communities.