Energy Within Environmental Constraints

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Week 1: Introduction
Meet the instructors and learn what the course is all about. Learn where you’re strongest and weakest, and if you have any commonly-held misconceptions.

Week 2: Energy Overview
Forms of energy and common units of measurement. How energy flows through modern and historical economies, including the composition of energy supply, common energy transformations, and which sources are used for which purposes. Prices for energy around the world.

Week 3: Estimating Costs
The quantitative techniques at the heart of the course: levelized cost and cost of mitigation. We’ll apply these techniques to energy systems and also to everyday life.

Week 4: Environmental Impacts
How severe are air pollution, climate change, and land use impact today, and how severe are they likely to be in the future? How do they affect human health, GDP, and the natural world?

Week 5: Fossil Fuels
An abbreviated section focused on the abundance of fossil fuels. Spoiler alert: we won’t run out any time soon.

Week 6: The Electric Grid
A brief overview of modern electric grids including major technologies they use, how remarkably reliable and efficient they are, how they’re planned and regulated, and how they’re starting to change.

Week 7: Solar Power
What solar power technologies dominate today and which have a chance to in the near future. How to estimate the cost of solar power in different regions, how it compares to other options, and the remarkable decline in its cost in the past 5 years. How we can cope with the intermittent nature of the solar resource. How solar power is regulated and subsidized today.

Week 8: Nuclear Power
How nuclear fission works and how it’s harnessed in modern nuclear plants. How much nuclear power costs and how much it’s used, including the stagnation in its use since the 1990’s and the prospects for its revival. Details on the hazards and costs of nuclear waste and power plant accidents. The connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Week 9: Demand Reduction and Efficiency
Reducing energy demand, by changing behavior or making devices more efficient, can reduce environmental harms – sometimes while saving money! But are there limits to this strategy? Can humanity reduce demand and aim towards a lower-energy future?

Week 10: Conclusion
Wrap-up and review.Wrap-up and review.