What should an undergraduate energy curriculum focus on? This blog post asks questions about what energy education should look like and outlines my thinking as I consider the curriculum I am teaching at Sonoma State University. The Department of Energy has started to develop an Energy 101 curriculum for a single class. Beyond this first class, what should an energy curriculum cover. One simple heuristic is to use the proportion of energy use in the world for the relative importance of those topics in the curriculum. EIA data from their FAQ claims:

End-use sector Share of total energy use
Commercial 12%
Industrial 51%
Residential 18%
Transportation 20%

By this heuristic, the industrial sector uses 50% of energy use. What skills and concepts do students need to affect this portion of our energy use? Are they accessible to students outside the engineering school? Perhaps the thermal concepts could be broadened beyond wall and window insulation to include insulating boilers and pipes. There could also be a comparison of electric heating to combustion heating. This can get into an engineering level of complexity but there may be some undergraduate and policy level curriculum that can look at this issue.

Transportation is about 20% of energy. What are the fundamentals students need to know here? Well to wheels carbon emissions come to mind as well as carbon intensity in the grid that is used for an electric vehicle.

Also, what fundamental skills are needed to allow students to create greenhouse gas inventories? While the mathematics are simple, the process of identifying factors and estimating the most significant is more subtle.

What non-technical skills should be introduced? I am trained in engineering and physics and carry a technical bias in my thinking and teaching. What concepts and skills from psychology and economics are important for students interested in energy careers? How do I teach these concepts that are outside of my expertise and training?

As I think about revising our curriculum to reflect the needs of our students and our society I'm trying to identify the core concepts and skills that will allow students to tackle energy questions at the scale of a home, a building, a city, or a society. Energy technologies move quickly but the underlying skills of analysis and comparison should be constant.