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)

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.

Some specific topic areas, skills, and habits of mind to be emphasized include:

  1. Students will develop a set of benchmarks so as to have an intuitive feel for energy consumption, from the individual to the global.
  2. Numbers not adjectives! An energy plan has to add up.
  3. We will focus on sustainable energy solutions at scales from individual to national.
  4. Students will gain skills and experience using spreadsheets to perform and present quantitative analyses.
  5. Students will also learn how to do some basic financial calculations.

The main text for this course will be David MacKay's Sustainable Energy &mdash Without the Hot Air. This book is available in hard copy and for free online at: http://www.withouthotair. It's an awesome book.

Official Description

The aim of this course is to help students learn some basic physics and quantitative and analytical skills so that they can participate intelligently and responsibly in policy discussion, personal and community decisions, and ventures in the area of sustainable energy. We will begin with some basic physics: the definition of energy, the difference between energy and power, and so on. We will also provide students with a basic scientific and economic introduction to various alternative energy technologies. Along the way, students will gain mathematical skills in estimation and dimensional analysis, and will learn to use spreadsheets to assist in calculations. There will also be a weekly lab to help students understand the physical principles behind different energy technologies and gain experience gathering and analyzing data.

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to apply what they have learned to basic issues in sustainable energy. For example, they will be able to evaluate and analyze a proposed technology improvement by considering its dollar cost, carbon reduction, return to investment, payback time, and how all this might depend on, say, interest rates or the cost of electricity or gasoline. Students will also be able to analyze the potential of a technology or energy source to scale up. E.g., they will be able to consider not only the benefits to a homeowner of a solar installation, but to also analyze the degree to which wind power may contribute to Maine's energy needs.

This will be a demanding, but introductory, class. Evaluation will be based on weekly problem sets, participation in class and lab, and a final project. At least one college-level class in mathematics or physical science is strongly recommended. *QR* *ES* Permission of instructor. Class limit of 20. Lab fee $50.00