While studying energy-system modeling with the Energy and Resources Group, Michael Cohen, PhD ’16, wanted to help inform the public about what it means to add clean energy to our power grids. Taking inspiration from “edutainment” simulation video games like the SimCity series, he created Griddle, a PC game that enables players to design, operate, and grow their own power grids. Players tackle real-world challenges like meeting California’s renewable energy regulations while controlling costs or stabilizing Japan’s power system in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In the process, they learn about the historical operation of traditional power systems, as well as changes triggered by new technology and environmental awareness.
Cohen also developed a high school curriculum to accompany the game prototype and tested both at local schools. He noticed that students wanted to dive into the game quickly, jumping ahead of his planned levels to add wind and solar energy sources early on. “From a values perspective, that was very exciting!” he said. But students had difficulty managing blackouts and controlling costs, Cohen added.
“They learned about the complex realities of adding renewables, from the intermittency of wind and solar power to the cost of implementation.” And he hopes that intrigued them. “I want more people to see that the migration to more sustainable energy sources is a challenge, yes, but an interesting and exciting one.”
Cohen is now working as a power-systems engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists. He hopes to find more funding to further develop Griddle and eventually make it more widely available.