The course is an introduction to the question: if not fossil-fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), then what? Through out the course we highlight energy policy challenges in the context of competing and cooperative social and cultural interests bounded by fundamental physical, chemical, and biological constraints underlying “energy technologies.” Simply stated: We cannot fool Mother Nature. The broad question then: Is energy an object of governance? Specific topics covered: the social and technical meaning of “energy”; why we depend on fire; how we harness fire via heat-engines; how we measure energy; the good and bad about fossil fuels and the origins of the climate-change problems; energy for transportation and our dependence on petroleum; fuel consumption of cars; the electrical system—concept of central electrical power and its social and technological ramifications; how we use electrical energy; electric cars; electric lighting; electrical energy from sunlight and wind; biofuels; energy infrastructure in cities; space heating and cooling; air pollution; energy consumption of modern computing and the internet; challenges of governing the energy “commons.”
The course qualifies for LS&A quantitative reasoning credit. It draws on publically available data posted on government websites, and it uses college-prep level high-school mathematics and science to outline quantitative relationships among the social, technical, and cultural elements of energy systems and policies. Homework is based on a mixture of calculations, interpretive reasoning, and short paragraph responses to questions arising from in-class materials and from reading assignments.