Course Goals

  1. Gain a solid understanding of the basic physics of energy and the science behind various energy technologies.
  2. Gain skills and experience performing and communicating quantitative analyses of energy generation and consumption.
  3. Learn how to interpret common energy units, how to convert among different units, and how to present quantitative data in ways that are contextualized and easily understandable.
  4. Gain skills and experience using spreadsheets to perform quantitative analyses.
  5. Learn basic financial tools, including ROI, payback time, and IRR.

To have constructive conversations about the world's energy options, one needs to take a calm look at the numbers.... If the world is to move to a sustainable energy future, one that also limits the risk of global warming, each country will need to work out its own post-fossil-fuel energy plan. And the numbers will have to add up.... Countries [and states, towns, colleges, and individuals] that claim to be serious about creating an alternative energy future need to choose a plan, stop arguing and get building.
David J.C. MacKay, FRS (2009)

Physics and Math of Sustainable Energy: Official Course Description
In this course students will learn content and skills so that they can participate effectively in sustainable energy projects, make personal and community decisions that reduce carbon emissions, and work in ventures in sustainable energy. Additionally, this course will be useful for those interested in energy and climate policy, either internationally or domestically. We will begin with a quick overview of current CO2 emissions levels and look at how this is related to energy use. We will then turn our attention to basic ideas from physics, including the definition of energy and the difference between energy and power. The bulk of the course will consist of a survey of different forms of energy consumption and generation. Throughout, we will quantitatively analyze technology from both a local and global point of view. For example, we will calculate how much electricity one can generate on a rooftop, and we will also examine the role that solar PV could play toward the goal of eliminating fossil fuel use worldwide. In a unit on financial mathematics, students will learn about the time value of money and several ways of quantifying investments, including ROI (return on investment) and IRR (internal rate of return). Students will apply these financial tools in several short case studies. If time permits, we may also cover negative emissions technologies and the electrical grid, including grid stability issues and the potential of smart-grid technology. This will be a demanding, introductory, class.

Evaluation will be based on weekly problem sets.

Level: Introductory Prerequisites: None

Class Limit: 30. Lab fee $5.00

Meets the following degree requirements: QR ES

The building in which our class meets, and all of College of the Atlantic, is located on traditional lands of the Wabanaki people. The four Native American tribes in Maine today are the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy, collectively referred to as the Wabanaki. Although largely a technical class, we will touch upon questions of energy colonialism and imperialism. I believe it is important to acknowledge that our presence on this land entangles us in the web of colonialism, past and present. The future, however, is still unwritten.

In this class we will learn about non-fossil fuel sources of energy. Transitioning to a fossil fuel free society is essential to avoid catastrophic climate change. College of the Atlantic, and by extention all of us, presently benefit from energy provided by fossil fuel sources. Again, we are entangled with the system that we seek to replace.