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Megawatts and Marbles: The Renewable Energy Game You Want to Win


  • Manuel Fluck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria (Presentation)

Megawatts and Marbles is an interactive game devised to promote energy literacy and foster informed discussion about electricity systems. The intended learning outcomes include:

  • An understanding of energy as a system
  • Energy demand varies throughout the day but needs to be delivered instantly to meet demand
  • Different kinds of electricity generators have different operational characteristics
  • Renewable energy technologies and future scenarios can affect energy supply, demand, production and generation, with implications for the whole energy system

The format of this session diverged from the more traditional dialogue sessions delivered at Global Learning Forum 2017, which is reflected in the summary below.

The Game

Manuel Fluck, a co-creator of Megawatts and Marbles, introduced the players (participants) to the game as a demonstration of the whole energy system, not just one small part. The goal of the game is simple: players, taking on the role of power producers, must work together to generate enough electricity to meet a city’s demand over the course of a day. In teams, they must manage the time-variable nature of demand with the limitations of certain generators (for example, the speed at which they can respond to increased or slowed demand, or maximum/minimum generation capacity). Demand must always be met, or the game is lost.

(Energy, represented by marbles (1 marble = 1 gW), is produced by power plants and sent down the track into a city’s grid. Each team has a limited amount of marbles; if they play too many (that is, produce excess energy), they will run out of marbles and fail to meet demand over the rest of the game-play’s “day”.)

Two rounds of the game were played, each with its own set of scenarios or limitations. In the first round teams were provided with their generation mix, with the following limitations:

Characteristic Rule
Coal Inflexible, but large output capacity Maximum ramp rate of +/- 1 marble per round
Natural Gas Flexible, but small output capacity None
Wind Flexible, but intermittent Players draw card(s) each round to see how much wind they have at that time and must play that amount
Hydro Flexible, medium output capacity, but limited reservoir Must play minimum of 1 marble per round (must maintain downstream river levels)


A second round of game play incorporated the following:

  • Teams design their energy system and desired energy mix
  • New generation types were added: nuclear, combined cycle natural gas
  • A carbon penalty was added for the use of natural gas, combined cycle gas, and coal (players lost points for using these technologies)
  • Teams choose a future scenario to model: A) Increased use of electric vehicles, or B) Independent home solar power generation

Game Debrief

Participants quickly discovered that the inflexibility of coal plants does not work well with the unpredictability of renewable energy sources, and yet coal is typically used to provide baseload capacity. They also discussed the limited opportunities for wind farms due to fluctuating wind sources, and that trading electricity in the market with wind power is very volatile. This version of the game does not allow for storage, trading, and forecasting (for wind), or fully take into account externalities of certain generation types.

Following a second round of play, participants discussed the potential for fully electrifying Vancouver’s energy system. They suggested that meeting heat requirements using electricity would present a load-shifting opportunity.

Participants also discussed storage opportunities, such as Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES). ARES drives weights up a hill in automated train cars at times when surplus energy is being generated and rolls them back down under gravity power when the energy is needed.

Fluck indicated that the game is meant to reflect reality as close as possible, so future iterations may evolve to include energy trading, incentives, policies, and demand side management to better support alternative energy sources. In addition to the future additions discussed during the debrief, a participant suggested adding “nuclear accident” as a potential scenario for the game.

Participant Feedback

Participants were asked to provide feedback about this session and the responses indicated very positive support. They strongly agreed that:

  • Playing this game illuminated the complexities of a transition to renewable energy (Rated 6.7/7).
    “Energy balance is not straight forward. There are trade-offs involved and it is more complex than I imagined.”
  • Megawatts and Marbles has strong potential as an engagement tool (Rated 6.8/7).
    “Great experiential education tool!”

Participants suggested the following audiences would benefit from playing Megawatts and Marbles:

  • University and high school students;
  • NGOs/civil society groups (Student Energy; Smart Cities; BCSEA); and
  • Mayors and councils.

For more information on Megawatts and Marbles, see website.