Tag Archives: calculations

How Much Power Is Really Generated by a Power Play?

As a huge sports fan who works in and writes about the energy industry, stumbling across this article that compared the kinetic energy produced by the high velocity projectiles in different sports got my creative juices flowing. By the estimates in that article, shooting a hockey puck produces the highest kinetic energy in all of sports.

Not only does it appear that hockey can take the ‘energy crown’ in sports, but a common occurrence during a hockey game is a ‘power play.’ A power play occurs when the referee determines that a player has committed a foul and that player is sent to spend a set number of minutes in the penalty box. During that time in the penalty box, the opposing team has the advantage of one additional player and are said to be on a power play– and if they score during that time then it is called a power play goal. While this power play has absolutely nothing to do with power plants or power generation, the idea that hockey pucks have the most kinetic energy in sports got me to wondering about what sort of power generation could be harnessed by power play goals in the National Hockey League (NHL).



If we wanted to harness the power of power plays (why would we want do do that? Maybe it’s the part of a plot by a wacky cartoon villain!), how much would that be? Why don’t we sit down and do the math!

Energy from a hockey puck

To start, we need to determine what the energy of a single hockey shot should be assumed to be (as the previously mentioned article does not include all of the necessary assumptions for academic rigor). High school physics class taught us that the kinetic energy is determined by taking one half times the mass of the object times the square of the speed of that object.

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Official ice hockey pucks weigh 170 grams, so we just need to figure out what to assume as the speed of the puck. Obviously every shot of the puck comes at a different speed depending on who is shooting, what type of shot is used (e.g., slap shot vs. wrist shot), how fatigued the player is, the condition of the ice, and many other factors. But for the sake of this back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can look at a couple of data points for reference:

  • The official NHL record for shot speed is 108.8 miles per hour (MPH) by Zdeno Chara in the 2012 All-Star Skills Competition;
  • Guinness World Records recognizes the hardest recorded ice hockey shot in any competition as 110.3 MPH by Denis Kulyash in the 2011 Continental Hockey League’s All-Star Skills Competition;
  • When discussing the benchmark of a particularly strong slapshot, 100 MPH is often used as the benchmark of a player getting everything behind a shot;
  • Finding benchmarks for the wrist shot is not as prevalent (people like to discuss the hardest shots possible, hence data on slap shots and not wrist shots), but some estimates show that wrist shots can reach speeds of 80 to 90 MPH; and
  • Estimates put wrist shots as accounting for 23 to 37 percent of all shots taken in professional hockey.

Given those figures, a rough estimate of average NHL shot speed can be determined by assuming slap shots are about 100 MPH and account for 70 percent of shots, while wrist shots are about 85 MPH and account for 30 percent of shots:

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll call the speed of a NHL shot 95.5 MPH, which equals about 42.7 meters per second (m/s). Plugging that speed and the 170 gram weight of the puck into our kinetic energy equation leaves us with an assumed ‘Power Play Power’ of an NHL power play goal of 154.9 Joules (J)– just over 0.04 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

For the rest of this article, we’ll refer to the energy gathered from power play goals, 154.9 J at a time, as ‘Power Play Power’– though please keep in mind the cardinal rule that power is the rate of energy over time, while the Joules and kilowatt-hours we’re talking about is total energy

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How much power can be harnessed from power plays?

The next step in reality would be to figure out how exactly you intend to extract ‘Power Play Power’ into actually generated energy, though that can be left up to the hypothetical cartoon villain who would be using such odd methods to create energy for his evil plots, as he did with the champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve (Side note, if I continue to write articles about the bizarre energy sources only thought up by a misguided cartoon villain, he needs a name– so in the spirit of villains like Megatron, Megamind, and Mega Shark, the energy-obsessed villain will be named Megawatt!)

But ignoring the question of how or why we would be extracting energy from ‘Power Play Power,’ let’s just look at what type of power will be generated based on 154.9 J per power play goal. Also note that there’s nothing special about the energy generated by a power play goal compared with a regular goal or even a shot that misses the goal– but where would the fun be without wordplay? POWER play goals only!

Most individual power play goals in a season

Note that all of the statistics pulled for this analysis are current as of January 1, 2018. Any power play goals scored after that date will not be accounted for in these statistics and calculations.

Pulling the top 10 individual player seasons with the most power play goals in NHL history, and assuming each of those power play goals account for 154.9 J, gives the following results:
Despite an impressive 34 power play goals in the 1985-86 season, Tim Kerr’s NHL record season would only generate enough ‘Power Play Power’ to run a large window-unit air conditioner for one hour at almost 1.5 kWh.

What about considering single players over their entire career?

Most individual power play goals over a career

As of January 1, 2018, the top 10 power play goal scorers for an entire career are as follows (note that as of writing, Alex Ovechkin is still active, as is Jaromir Jagr who is only two power play goals behind him in 11th place):
Looking at Dave Andreychuk, the individual with the most career power play goals in NHL history, his career ‘Power Play Power’ accounts for almost 11.8 kWh. Despite being an incredibly impressive number of power play goals, it’s only enough to power an energy-efficient refrigerator for about a week and a half. That’s a useful amount of energy to use in your home, but when it takes 274 career power play goals that that might be more work than it’s worth…

However looking at these first two charts, one aspect really jumps out– players who come from Canada appear to dominate ‘Power Play Power’ generation! Let’s dig into that a bit more.

Most power play goals by country of origin in the NHL

To start, Quant Hockey’s data shows that there are only 25 different home countries across all the players who have ever scored a power play goal in NHL history. Those 25 countries are listed in the below chart with their respective ‘Power Play Power’ totals generated:

Now we’re talking about some real energy. Canada, as predicted, dominates with almost 2,250 kWh of ‘Power Play Power’ since the beginning of the NHL. This amount of energy equates to about 20% of the average annual electricity used by an American household in 2016.

So that’s a pretty significant amount of energy on a micro-scale, but because we’re talking about the total ‘Power Play Power’ generated by all Canadian NHL players over nearly a century of play it is still not terribly impressive. For reference, the smallest nuclear power plant in the United States has a generation capacity of 582 Megawatts, meaning the 2,250 kWh of ‘Power Play Power’ of Canadian NHL players would be generated in under 14 seconds by the smallest U.S. nuclear plant operating at full capacity. Even if we included all power play goals scored by players of any nationality, the total ‘Power Play Power’ would only reach 3,339 kWh– or almost 21 seconds from the smallest U.S. nuclear plant.

Source 1, Source 2

Obviously the actual energy generation of each of these 25 nations will be much greater than the ‘Power Play Power’ generated by their respective NHL players– but is there some sort of correlation between ‘Power Play Power’ and actual energy production of the nations? Using the silly initial premise of this article as an example of the type of information available from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, and how to find that data, we can pull the total primary energy production for these 25 countries and get a rough idea! While the NHL started recording power play goals in the 1933-34 season, EIA’s country-by-country energy production data dates back to 1980 (measured using quadrillion British thermal units, or quads), but we’ll still use these two complete time frames for the comparison’s sake. Putting the two energy figures on one graph for a relative comparison provides the following:
This graph presents a couple of interesting points:

  • Among the 25 eligible nations included in the survey, Canada, the United States, and Russia all find themselves in the top 4 countries in terms of both ‘Power Play Power’ and Total Primary Energy Produced by the nation;
  • In an interesting coincidence, when the two types of energy being measured here are put on comparative scales, Canada and the United States appear to be almost mirror images of each other, swapping relative strength in ‘Power Play Power’ and Total Primary Energy Production;
  • In another similarity between the two measures of energy, the totality is dominated by the top three nations, and the relative scale of any nation after about the halfway point shows up as barely even a blip on this graph.

But other than that, it can be considered fairly unsurprising that NHL power play success doesn’t directly translate to Total Primary Energy Produced by nation. And even if Canada saw their NHL power play prowess as their opportunity to increase energy exports (which would only serve to increase the fact that Canada is the largest energy trading partner of the United States), translating ‘Power Play Power’ into real energy, their 2,250 kWh over NHL history would only translate to 0.00000004% of Canada’s primary  energy produced in 2015 alone. Unfortunately, I do not think I’ve discovered a viable energy to be harnessed by the villainous Megawatt.

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More benevolently, it would also appear that ‘Power Play Power’ will not serve as a reliable new renewable energy source for hockey-crazed areas (in this scenario, are we to consider penalty minutes a source of renewable energy?? If so, Tiger Williams might be the most environmentally friendly player in major sports history). However, at 419 billion kWh of renewable generation in 2015, Canada is the fourth largest renewable energy producer worldwide (with the United States and Canada being the only nations this time to finds themselves in the top four of of renewable energy and ‘Power Play Power,’ as North America accounts for majority of NHL players and has collectively agreed to generate 50% of electricity from clean sources by 2025). Following the link for EIA international renewable energy data to bring this back to educational purposes, you’ll find other top-15 ‘Power Play Power’ nations that also account for the top-15 in global renewable energy production, including the United States, Germany, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Coincidence? Probably.

Interesting and informative, nonetheless? Definitely!



Sources and additional reading

Appliance Energy Use Chart: Silicon Valley Power

Comparing Sports Kinetic Energy: We are Fanatics

How much electricity does a nuclear power plant generate? Energy Information Administration

How much electricity does an American home use? Energy Information Administration

Iafrate breaks 100 mph barrier: UPI

International Energy Statistics: Energy Information Administration

Most Power-Play Goals in One Season by NHL Players: Quant Hockey

NHL & WHA Career Leaders and Records for Power Play Goals: Hockey Reference

NHL Totals by Nationality – Career Stats: Quant Hockey

Now You Know Big Book of Sports

Ranking the 10 Hardest Slap Shots in NHL History: Bleacher Report

Saving Electricity: Michael Bluejay

Scientists Reveal the Secret to Hockey’s Wrist Shot: Live Science

Score!: The Action and Artistry of Hockey’s Magnificent Moment

Sherwood Official Ice Hockey Puck: Ice Warehouse

Slap Shot Science: A Curious Fan’s Guide to Hockey

Total Renewable Electricity Net Generation 2015: Energy Information Administration

Wrist Shots: Exploratorium

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

The Hidden Energy of New Year’s Eve Celebrations, Measured in Joules

As a final post for the year, I thought I would channel some of my earlier holiday/energy crossovers (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa all got energy-related analyses this year!) and have a fun and quick look at some energy figures associated with celebrating New Year’s Eve. Whether you head out to a wild and exclusive party, stay in and toast a quiet New Year with your family, or fall somewhere in between, you’re sure to stumble across one of the users of energy described here. So toast to a good 2017, and even better 2018, and learning more mostly-pointless but still-fun energy trivia!



Popping champagne and the Times Square Ball

A surprising amount of scientific research has been done on the science of champagne bottles– filling them, storing them, and opening them. Fortunately for the purposes of this article, there was even a fairly extensive research paper conducted on the physics of popping the cork of the champagne bottle.
According to the study published in the Journal of Food Engineering, the velocity that a champagne cork shoots out of a bottle of champagne varies based on the temperature of the champagne. Consistent with the idea that increased temperatures correlate with increased pressures, the study found that at 4 degrees Celsius the cork shot out at about 38 kilometers per hour (km/h), but that speed increased to about 48 km/h at 12 degrees Celsius and about 54 km/h at 18 degrees Celsius.

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By consulting Wine Spectator, it appears the optimal temperature at which to serve champagne is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 12.8 degrees Celsius. If we assume a roughly linear relationship between temperature and cork speed (as shown in the graph below), that would mean the ideal champagne bottle’s cork would pop at about 47.6 km/h.

The basic formula to calculate the kinetic energy of a moving object is 1/2 times mass times velocity squared. Plugging in the mass of the cork (which the study gave at about 10 grams) and the velocity (47.6 km/h or 13.2 meters per second), the cork has a kinetic energy of about 0.9 Joules (J).

While 0.9 J does not sound like that much (as discussed in the post about energy units, a single Joule is the energy required to lift an apple 1 meter off the ground), keep in mind that flying corks can still be dangerous, and if one hits you in the eye it can ‘cause a shockwave that can lead to hemorrhage, disruption of tissues, a cataract, even retinal damage.’

Also worth noting is that the flight of the champagne cork is only a small part of the energy in opening a champagne bottle. The same study that looked at the speed of the cork also found that only about 5% of the energy released when a champagne bottle is opened gets transferred to the kinetic energy of the cork, with the rest being converted to the ‘pop’ sound, a small amount of generated heat, and a cloud of gaseous carbon dioxide (CO2) gushing out of the bottle. If the 0.9 J behind the cork is only 5% of the total champagne opening energy, that would mean the total energy associated with the opening of a champagne bottle is about 17.5 J.

Given this knowledge, what if we wanted to calculate something ridiculous– like how many champagne corks popping it would take to power the Times Square Ball that’s dropped on New Year’s Eve (seems like this could loosely be the plot to an odd children’s book, or the first part of a plan hatched by a cartoon villain)? For the 100th anniversary of the Times Square Ball drop, the ball was updated with over 32,000 state-of-the-art LEDs, which made the lit up ball 80% more efficient than it previously had been with halogen bulbs. The end results is that the lit ball now only requires 50 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy for the New Year’s Even celebration. Converting that figure to Joules gives a total energy use of 180,000,000 J.

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So what does that mean for our ‘power the Times Square Ball by opening champagne bottles’ scheme? If we’re harnessing the energy of just the corks flying out of the bottles (at 0.9 J per cork), then 205,687,545 bottles of champagne will need to be uncorked. Given that 2 million people attended the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration to ring in 2017, that would mean every person in attendance would need to uncork just under 103 bottles of champagne each. BUT– if we instead are able to harness the entire energy from the champagne uncorking (which brings the total energy per bottle to 17.5 J), then only 10,284377 bottles of champagne are required, or just over 5 bottles per attendee of the Times Square celebration. That’s much more doable! In fact, the Guinness World Record for champagne bottles opened in one minute is 10, so all that’s left is for these misguided champagne powered villains to figure out is how to harness all that energy.

Party poppers and fireworks in Sydney

Another common feature to midnight celebrations are party poppers– those mini explosive doodads that explode with a loud bang and a pop of confetti and/or streamers when you pull on the string. Many people don’t realize that these party poppers actually contain explosive powder, though in small enough quantities that they are not legally considered fireworks and can thus be old in any grocery or party store. But given the limited firepower allowed, exactly how much energy is contained in these almost-fireworks that we give to children and drunken party-goers alike?

Source 1 Source 2

While most real firecrackers are limited by law to 50 milligrams (mg) of gunpowder, the party poppers that are sold in stores are capped out at 16 mg of gunpowder each. Given that gunpowder has a specific energy of 3.0 Megajoules per kilogram, we can calculate that each party popper contains 48 J of explosive energy.

Now what if we considered the firepower of these party poppers in the context of another explosive New Year’s Eve tradition– fireworks! Among the largest and most famous New Year’s Eve fireworks displays (also famous due it taking place in one of the earliest time zones to celebrate the New Year) is the annual Midnight Fireworks in Sydney, Australia. How many of the dinky party poppers would it take to equal the firepower in this massive fireworks display? This calculation is the most ‘back-of-the-envelope’ type one here, but some reasonable estimates can be made.

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First, start with the knowledge that the Midnight Fireworks to celebrate 2017 in Sydney featured 8 metric tons of fireworks. Then take the rule of thumb that the explosive flash powder of fireworks makes up about 25% of the weight of the overall weight of the fireworks, leading to an estimate that the Sydney fireworks required 2 metric tons (or 2 million grams) of explosive flash powder. Combine that with with energy density of flash powder of 9,196 Joules/gram to arrive at an estimated energy content of the Sydney Midnight Fireworks of 18.292 Gigajoules, or 18.392 billion J.

Over 18 Gigajoules is a massive amount of explosive energy, an an equally impressive number of party poppers. Given each party popper supplies 48 J of energy, you’re looking at 383,166,667 total party poppers. What would be required for those in attendance at the Sydney fireworks display to match the firepower of the fireworks with party poppers (yes, our cartoon villain with poorly designed schemes has come back and is trying to take over the world with party poppers!)? Since the 2017 fireworks display in Sydney clocked in at 12 minutes long, that means the crowd of people popping party poppers would need to average 31,930,556 party poppers per minute. Combine that figure with the attendance of the Sydney Midnight Fireworks (which was about 1.5 million) to find that, in order for the crowd in attendance to equal the firepower of the actual fireworks, each person would need to pop just over 21 party poppers per minute. While a party popper every 2.82 seconds for 12 minutes by 1.5 million different people seems like a crazy high number, the Guinness World Record for party poppers popped in a minute (because of course that’s a record) is 78 in one minute. As such, the 1.5 million in attendance would only need to go at 27% of the world record pace– once again, totally doable. Though be careful, because the party poppers are also known to cause ocular injury— especially when a million and a half people are each firing off over 250 poppers each in such close proximity.

Sources and additional reading

Are Fireworks Legal in Your State? Laws and Regulations: Something About Orange

Ask Dr. Vinny: Wine Spectator

Champagne cork popping revisited through high-speed infrared imaging: Journal of Food Engineering

Chemical Potential Energy: The Physics Hypertextbook

How Dangerous Are Champagne Corks, Really? Motherboard

How do Party Poppers Work? eHow

How Much Energy Do Fireworks Generate on July 4th? Ecovent

Incredible rainbow waterfall from the Harbour Bridge using eight tonnes of fireworks: Sydney’s New Year’s Eve 2017 set to be the biggest ever: DailyMail

LEDs Light up New Years Eve 2010 in Times Square NYC! inhabitant

NYE History & Times Square Ball: Times Square Official Website

Party popper: Wikipedia

Pressure Systems Stored-Energy Threshold Risk Analysis: Pacific Northwest national Laboratory

Renewable ‘pedal power’ to light Times Square ball tonight: VentureBeat

Sydney’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks Pay Tribute to Prince, David Bowie and Gene Wilder: Time

‘The energy here is like out of conrol’: Times Square kicks off American New Year celebrations: CBS News

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.