Energy, Technology, and Society, GEP 373, Fall 2018

Instructor Daniel Soto
Classroom Environmental Technology Center (ETC)
Meeting Time MW 4:00 - 5:50 pm
Units 4
Office Stevenson 3016E

Office Hours

Signup is online and can be accessed through my website at Please meet with me during office hours for any grade checks or other issues that require individual attention.

When you send email, please put [GEP 373] in your subject line. This helps me identify and respond to student emails more quickly.

Course Catalog Description

A lecture/discussion course designed to assist students in understanding energy as a fundamental measure of organization, structure, and transformation in society. Principal topics include: energy history; thermodynamics; energy resources and conversion technologies; global issues and trends; environmental impacts; energy economics, institutions, and politics. Elementary quantitative analysis.

Course-level Learning Objectives

  • Development of critical thinking skills applied to global energy issues
  • Develop model thinking and quantitative estimation skills for energy use
  • Understanding of the multiple technical, social, and policy issues surrounding energy implementations

If you perform the work required for this class, you will be able to evaluate and improve parts of our energy system. You will be able to use mathematics, computational tools, physics, and social science to understand our complex energy system and suggest ways to improve it. You will be able to evaluate the arguments of others and decide if the evidence they provide is compelling. Our energy system and climate change are intertwined. After this course, you can be an important part of our energy transition.

In this course you will come to understand our energy system as well as the impacts it makes on our environment. Through developing your critical thinking skills as well as your quantitative abilities, you will also be able to suggest or evaluate new ideas in our energy system.

Class Organization and Schedule

In the first part of the class you will learn a set of concepts and tools that empower you to make rough quantitative estimates of problems. We will then apply these to our energy system as it exists and look at the positive and negative outcomes from our energy system. Last, we will apply these ideas to our energy system at SSU and in Sonoma County and suggest ways to improve it.

Course Schedule

This course schedule posted here is subject to change.

  • Mon 20 Aug - Wed 22 Aug (Class 1 - 2) Context and Fundamentals
  • Mon 27 Aug - Wed 05 Sep (Class 3 - 5) Energy Estimations and Models
  • Mon 10 Sep - Mon 17 Sep (Class 6 - 8) Energy Services and Conversion
  • Wed 19 Sep - Mon 24 Sep (Class 9 - 10) Midterm 1
  • Wed 26 Sep - Mon 01 Oct (Class 11 - 12) Energy Production
  • Wed 03 Oct - Mon 08 Oct (Class 13 - 14) Energy and Economics
  • Wed 10 Oct - Mon 15 Oct (Class 15 - 16) Life Cycle and Cost Analysis
  • Wed 17 Oct - Mon 22 Oct (Class 17 - 18) Midterm 2
  • Wed 24 Oct - Mon 05 Nov (Class 19 - 22) Environmental and Societal Impacts
  • Wed 07 Nov - Wed 14 Nov (Class 23 - 24) Energy Access
  • Mon 19 Nov - Wed 28 Nov (Class 25 - 27) Projects
  • Mon 03 Dec - Wed 05 Dec (Class 28 - 29) Midterm 3

Coursework Components and Requirements

To develop your skills and reinforce your learning, we will be reading and reflecting, writing calculations and explanations, and taking in-class examinations and quizzes.

Readings and Discussions

Before class, there will usually be a brief set of questions that go with the reading. In class, you will discuss the reading in groups to bring out your main interests in the reading. We will then convene as an entire class and discuss.

Our class readings are in PDF format or are online. Any reading question assignments will be announced in class and posted on Canvas.


By completing the homework regularly, you will develop skills necessary to take a question and get estimate for the answer. You will also develop your ability to communicate and explain these estimates in writing.

You are encouraged to work in teams and discuss the strategies and even numerical answers you are getting. You are strongly discouraged from looking at other students completed assignments before it is due. If you look at your classmates completed work, you are denying yourself the opportunity to construct the solution on you own and will prevent you from developing your skills.


By participating in classroom work regularly, you will gain skills you need to collaborate with others on problem solving. You will take quizzes in class in groups where everyone receives the same grade. This is designed to help you collaborate and communicate your ideas so that everyone in the group agrees. You will get multiple attempts on each question. Each incorrect answer will receive a grade deduction. Someone in each group will need access to a smartphone or laptop since part of the quiz will be on Moodle. If you have an unexcused absence on the day of work, you will not receive credit for that day's assignment. Quizzes will be in class and will often be unannounced.


By completing a research and estimation project, you will develop skills to evaluate new ideas to improve our energy system. In teams, you will choose a question related to energy and the environment and then use techniques from this class to create estimates. The learning goals are for you to explore relevant topics in energy resource use in a ways similar to professional work. There will be a separate document that explains the expectations for the project that I will hand out in a few weeks.

You will be creating personal carbon inventories and writing emissions reduction plans. We will discuss other possibilities in the class.

Class Texts and Tools

You will be writing documents that contain both written text and calculations. We will be using a tool called the Jupyter Notebook since it allows you to do this. You will be expected to purchase a one-semester subscription to CoCalc where we can use these notebooks as a class.

There is no required text to be purchased for this class. You will read from several texts and the readings will be supplied on Moodle.

The texts we will draw from are:

  • Sustainability without all the Hot Air, MacKay. You can download the text in PDF format at
  • Natural Capitalism, Lovins. Available for download in PDF format at
  • Randolph and Masters, Energy for Sustainability
  • Hinrichs and Kleinbach, Energy: Its Use and the Environment


  • Homework 30%
  • Classwork 30%
  • Exams 40%

Final Exam

The final exam schedule for SSU is here.

Class Norms and Agreements

Late Work

To reinforce habits of consistency and accountability, as a rule late work is not accepted in this class. However, students often have circumstances beyond their control that interfere with their studies. If you believe you have a compelling case for a late assignment, make an office hours appointment with me and I'll consider granting an extension.

Excused Absences

If you miss class due to an unexcused absence, you will receive a zero on that day's classwork grade.

I grant excused absences when I receive a notification before the start of class with a brief and compelling reason for the absence. You do not need to reveal any personal information in your reason. You can find a link for our absence form here.

Respectful tone in classroom

Civility is required from all students during discussions and interactions. In general, I expect students to be supportive of each others learning goals.

Minimize electronic distractions

An important skill is self-regulation against distractions. Electronic devices are a potent source of distraction. However, we will not ban their use since they can be productive. We will frequently use Internet-connected electronic devices (phones, tablets) for learning purposes. However, using devices for social networks or other uses during class time is strongly discouraged.

Willingness to take risks and experiment

I frequently try new approaches to teaching and learning that you may find unusual. These are always with the intention of making this class as beneficial to you as possible.

University Policies

There are important University policies that you should be aware of, such as the add/drop policy; cheating and plagiarism policy, grade appeal procedures; accommodations for students with disabilities and the diversity vision statement. Go to this URL to find them.