A Scientific Approach to the Economics of Sustainable Energy Systems (CH/EC278)

CH/EC278:  This course explores economic issues defined by energy science focusing on tradeoffs that accompany both renewable and non-renewable energy systems. In this course you will develop a capacity for the analysis of equivalent units of energy based on an understanding of thermodynamics and fuel types. Armed with a foundational knowledge of energy science, we’ll employ a behavioral framework to evaluate the economics of alternative energy technologies and policy proposals for addressing environmental externalities associated with energy use. This course includes field work, project-based cooperative learning, oral and written presentations, in-class homework assignments, quizzes, and an exam.

FAQ: How did we come up with this course number?
Ans: One Joule equals 2.78 x 10-7 kWh

Learning Goals

  • Understand the scientific principles behind energy and the interconversion of chemical potential, heat, and work
  • Develop a capacity for comparing equivalent units of energy and waste products across different fuel sources and applications
  • Apply concepts of economic behavior to national/global policy issues regarding energy resource extraction and use
  • Evaluate applications of alternative fuels in terms of efficiency, technology choice, and cost effectiveness
  • Gain confidence working over the many scales of energy production and economic systems
  • Deepen knowledge of the scientific method of inquiry by producing an analysis of theoretical energy content relative to empirical observations on energy production to identify potential tradeoffs in the application of energy systems in a real-world context
  • Identify the costs and benefits associated with sustainable energy systems
  • Enhance the ability to communicate, both orally and in writing, scientific evidence to an educated interdisciplinary audience

Professor:  Whitney King
Office Hours:  Monday 10-12 AM, by appointment, or stop by my office.
Office:  Olin 236 (x5755)
Home: 207-873-6154
Cell: 207-649-9674 (texting is fine)
Email: [email protected]

Professor: Michael Donihue
Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:30 – 2:30 PM or by appointment
Office: 370 Diamond (x5232)
Email: [email protected]

Textbook resources
We haven’t found a course quite like the one we’re going to offer you so there isn’t a single textbook or electronic resource for your to acquire.  We’ll provide you with lots of resources throughout the semester, including journal articles, technical memos, policy briefs, and lab reports.

You should pull out your introductory chemistry and economics textbooks from your library (hope you kept them) and refresh your memory of this material.  These resources will be particularly important at the beginning of the semester.

You might also take a look at Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, a free online textbook by David MacKay, the Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. You can download a .pdf version of this text directly to your computer. The 2009 edition is also available in paperback at Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase the hard copy, or download the book to your computer, make sure that you print out the errata pages from the website.

Grade Determination: 400 points possible

Homework assignments & lab reports
You are encouraged to work with your classmates on homework assignments and lab reports. However, all of the work you hand in must be your own and contain a significant amount of original content.
50 points (12.5%)
Midterm Exam 100 points (25%)
CLAS activity
For this year’s Colby Liberal Arts Symposium we’re considering a debate and/or poster sessions. Details will be forthcoming.
50 points (12.5%)
J2$ Journal
We expect you to keep a journal that will become a primary reference resource of formulas, definitions, and modeling techniques throughout the course. We want you to create a reference manual of sorts for use after you leave this course. Your journal will be randomly collected and graded for format, content, and accuracy on at least 4 occasions during the semester.
50 points (12.5%)
Class participation is an important part of this course. You will be expected to work as a member of a team and contribute regularly and constructively to classroom discussions and lab exercises. 50 points (12.5%)
Final Project
Your final project for this class will be a comprehensive energy audit of two structures belonging to Colby College. Details on your final project will be forthcoming.
100 points (25%)

Academic Honesty
All students are expected to do their own work.  In some cases we will ask you to work on experiments in small groups.  We expect and encourage you to discuss the procedures and results of these experiments with your fellow classmates.  It is also acceptable to work together on difficult homework assignments, but not download solutions from the internet or other sources.  The final lab reports and completed homework assignments should be your own work.  This means that you should be able to explain in detail all of the steps and procedures used to solve a particular homework problem or lab assignment.  All spreadsheets should be your own work, including the equations!   If you work with other students on homework or lab assignments you should acknowledge this collaboration by listing their names on the top of your assignment.

Colby’s guidelines for academic honesty are outlined in the student handbook. These guidelines will be adhered to throughout this course. If you cheat on an exam, hand in a lab report that is not your own, or plagiarize your final project, you should expect to fail this course and be referred to the Dean of Students office for further disciplinary action.

Attendance Policy
This course will adhere to the attendance and exam policy for the Department of Chemistry.


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