ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: OVERVIEW
Here are some recommended books:
Amory B. Lovins: "Soft Energy Paths. Toward a
Durable Peace" (Harper & Row, 1977).
Daniel Yergin: "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil,
Money, and Power" (Simon and Schuster, 1991).
Martin Goldstein and Inge F. Goldstein: "The
Refrigerator and the Universe" (Harvard University Press, 1993).
J. C. Whorton, Jr. and P. Whitcomb: "Power Play:
Who's In Control of the Energy Revolution" (PennWell, 1998).
L. R. Brown, J. N. Abramovitz and C. Flavin:
"Vital Signs 1999. The Environmental Trends That Are Shaping Our
Future" (W. W. Norton, 1999).
Worldwatch Institute, "Vital Signs 2001. The
Trends That Are Shaping Our Future" (W. W. Norton, 2001).
The textbook written specifically for this
L.R. Radovic: "Energy and Fuels in Society:
Analysis of Bills and Media Reports" (McGraw-Hill Custom Publishing,
Note: This material is in "permanent reconstruction." So some of
the hot links do not work (yet).
This course deals with the following issues:
TECHNICAL ASPECTS of energy availability, use and
conversion (e.g., how much oil remains in the Earth's crust; why burning coal
produces more carbon dioxide - per unit of energy released - than burning natural
gas; why a gas furnace is more efficient than a coal furnace; etc.).
ECONOMIC ASPECTS of energy use (e.g., why electric heat
is much more expensive for the residential consumer than gas heat; why 1%
increase in power plant efficiency means big-buck savings for the electric
SOCIO-POLITICAL ASPECTS of energy use (e.g., why,
despite some clear technical and economic advantages, nuclear energy may not be
able to stage a "come back" in the U.S., and in some other countries
around the world).
It is emphasized that good energy policy, for families and nations alike, should
be formulated only after considering ALL these issues.
These issues are placed into recent
historical perspective by showing video clips of important energy-related
statements of the last six presidents of the United States:
President George W. Bush, like his father a decade ago,
is very active when it comes to energy issues, as expected from a Texan. In his
second week in office, he established the National Energy Policy Development
Group, directing it to “develop a national energy policy designed to help the
private sector, and, as necessary and appropriate, State and local governments,
promote dependable, affordable, and environmentally sound production and
distribution of energy for the future.” His new National Energy Policy (http://www.energy.gov/HQPress/releases01/maypr/energy_policy.htm)
will be discussed in Congress this fall. Stay tuned… At the international
level, he is being criticized for not supporting the Kyoto Protocol on
greenhouse gas emissions (http://www.unfccc.de/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.html).
At the moment he probably feels he can withstand this heat, since Congress does
not seem to be enthusiastic about the Kyoto Protocol either.
President Clinton came into office advocating the BTU
tax. He got a lot of applause when he proposed this in Congress, but he did not
get much support. He also talked about the threat of global warming, but no
compulsory measures have been instituted during his terms in office, either
nationally or globally.
President George Bush had emphasized that the market
forces should resolve most energy issues, but he commissioned and produced an
important government document, the National Energy Strategy.
President Reagan was very much in favor of the
"laissez faire" approach to energy issues, and even wanted to abolish
the Department of Energy. (Fortunately, no major energy problems surfaced
during his years in office.)
President Carter embarked on a big project for energy
independence, to produce "synthetic" oil from coal, which collapsed
when the oil prices collapsed.
President Nixon was the first to launch Project
Independence, "to meet [by 1980] America's energy needs from America's own
energy resources." (Thirty
years later, this is still an elusive (and illusive?) goal…)
President Carter had a National Energy Plan (“the moral equivalent
of war”), George Bush had a National Energy Strategy, Bill Clinton had a
Sustainable Energy Strategy, George W. Bush now has a National Energy
Policy… Is this just a fashion or is it a basic need of every post-1970s
society? Are there problems? Are the problems different now or is it “déjà vu
all over again”?
Because the quantity of material that can be
covered is overwhelming, material selection is based on a strictly utilitarian
approach: to provide JUST ENOUGH information for understanding those
energy-related issues that have the GREATEST impact on our DAILY lives. So the
specific course objectives are the following:
Become your family's "resident expert" on
energy issues (e.g, understand your energy bills, make informed decisions when
installing a heating system for your home or when buying appliances).
Become an informed and critical reader of
energy-related articles in the daily and weekly press.
Here are some typical questions:
What does "88 octane" gasoline mean?
Is a heat pump always a better buy than a regular
Can we keep our energy bills down? How??
Are we spending more money on heating than on cooling?
Is that changing?
What really happened at Three Mile Island and
How is nuclear proliferation related to electricity
Why a polar bear can swim in the Arctic ocean and we
can't afford solar energy (yet)?
Throughout the course we emphasize the ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT of energy
utilization. It used to be that either we simply could not afford to clean up
the environment so we didn't worry too much about it (many nations are still in
that situation), or we built taller smokestacks to dump the stuff farther away.
Now air pollution has become a GLOBAL PROBLEM and
we have to deal with it at the source.
In discussing ENERGY FUNDAMENTALS we provide
the necessary and sufficient information to introduce and utilize the concept
of energy conversion efficiency.
Energy is first briefly defined in qualitative and quantitative terms.
The laws of conversion of one energy form to another are then introduced (at
their very basic level).
Conversion of heat to work and work to heat is discussed in some detail,
because our industrial society relies so much on it.
Familiar energy conversion devices are introduced briefly (hair drier,
automobile engine, light bulb, etc.)
The unidirectional nature of spontaneous heat flow is illustrated by analyzing
familiar heat transfer devices (refrigerator, air conditioner, heat pump).
Once the concept of efficiency is introduced, however, the devices are treated
pretty much as "black boxes". How much energy goes into them and how
much useful energy comes out of them is all that matters. (Just for general
information, we do illustrate the basic principles of operation of a few
important devices: automobile engine, heat pump, electric power
In discussing ENERGY SUPPLY we take into account
the often forgotten fact that roughly 90% of our energy needs is satisfied by
burning fossil fuels. So we spend a fair amount of
formation, properties and utilization of coal
formation, properties and utilization of oil
formation, properties and utilization of natural gas
"synthetic" fuels from coal and
unconventional fossil fuels (such as oil shale and tar sands)
This discussion helps us to understand the opportunities and challenges in the
continued use of fossil fuels, on which we have become so dependent.
We then spend more time discussing nuclear energy than it deserves based on its current
contribution to our energy supply. We do so because much opinion of nuclear
energy is based on perceptions rather than realities, and because of its
relationship to world politics (nuclear proliferation).
Finally, we spend much more time on renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal,
etc.) than they deserve based on their current contribution to our energy
supply. We do so because they are our future. How distant this future is
depends, however, not only on politics and economics, but also on technical
Our discussion of ENERGY DEMAND is quite
selective. We analyze only the issues that are of general interest to
well-informed citizens and budget-mindful family heads:
indispensable nature of electricity,
some problems in balancing supply and demand, and uncertainties regarding
future demand (and supply).
analysis of alternatives for satisfying the demands of residential comfort (e.g., all-electric homes,
gas/electricity, coal/electricity, etc.)
to what extent the transportation
sector is "hooked on oil", and what can or should be done to change
such a situation.
The emphasis in this entire section is on opportunities (and indeed the
need) for ENERGY CONSERVATION. This point is brought home by illustrating the
energy intensity trends in the United States and the rest of the world.
While much progress has been made in the U.S. in the 1970's and 1980's,
Japan and most industrialized nations in western Europe still consume
considerably less energy to achieve a comparable "standard of living"
(as measured by the gross national product).
In discussing HOW TO BALANCE ENERGY SUPPLY AND
DEMAND we have to be extremely selective. The main point is that conventional
laws of supply and demand may not be applicable to oil, our most precious
source of energy today.
We show how the concepts developed in this course can be used to make
meaningful economic comparisons between the various energy options. These
comparisons are limited to the cost of the fuel used, expressed in dollars per
million BTUs of useful energy (e.g., $25 per million BTUs of thermal energy for
an electric heater vs. $5 per million BTUs of thermal energy for a gas heater).
Based on technical, economic, environmental and political considerations, we
conclude that natural gas is the ideal choice for residential heating and
cooling. We emphasize, however, that macroeconomic energy policies are not as
clear-cut. Finally, we discuss the National
Energy Policy as the most recent important incarnation of a comprehensive
energy policy that is easier to formulate than to implement. We make the point
that politicians come and go, but energy problems remain. The era of cheap and
seemingly limitless energy, and of our carefree energy consumption, is not
likely to return any time soon. One problem in particular remains exactly the
same as when it was formulated by President Nixon three decades ago: Can we,
and should we, do something to decrease our (excessive?) dependence on OPEC oil?
firstname.lastname@example.org (last modified 8/27/01)