Energy is an incredibly complex topic by virtue of the inter-linkages of science, technology, public policy, economics, and human behaviors. This course will examine all aspects of energy: supply and demand, technical and social, with a concerted look at the natural place of social science (behavior, pricing, externalities, social norms) in the energy sphere.
Every aspect of present-day society depends on the continuing availability of clean, affordable, flexible, secure, and safe energy resources. Yet nearly 90% of our current energy needs are met by fossil fuels. Our reliance on fossil fuels has led to declining supplies, rising prices, global climate change, and security concerns. The current global energy economy is not sustainable. The technological challenges are formidable; but they cannot be considered solutions without considering the human and social behavioral side of energy demand.
The quest for solutions to "The Energy Problem" is dominated by technology "fixes". The visions of practical technological fixes, whether electricity energy generation, oil exploration and extraction, pollution mitigation, automobile fuel efficiency and alternatives to combustion engines, etc, necessarily build on what we know today and presume that we can achieve in a couple of decades or so, through sufficient R&D, an energy supply-demand balance that fulfills a wide range of incompatible requirements — cheap, environmentally benign, politically secure, unconstrained supply, convenient, and safe. While we expect technology to come to our energy-rescue and support our established patterns of economic growth and energy-intensive lifestyles, we tend to expect very little from the human and social behavioral side of energy use and demand. In some ways the Energy Problem is yet another version of C.P. Snow's Two Cultures-parallel technology and social cultures with little mutual understanding and rare cross-over exchange.
The Complex Systems view would hold that society and Energy technologies have coevolved through the actions of individual agents (inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, financiers, writers, politicians, kings and queens, dictators, and statesman), learning, adapting, selecting, exchanging information, and interacting through transactions of many kinds. At every stage, the social, economic, and technological systems were tightly coupled. It is not possible to understand Energy Problems without framing them in a systems context.
Intended audience: Freshmen and Sophomores interested in energy and complex systems.
Course Requirements: 2 mid-term exams, a Final Exam, graded homework assignments, and a term project.
Class Format: 3 hours of lecture per week.