GE 150: Sustainable Energy

GE 150: Sustainable Energy–Technology, Resources, Society & Environment

Background and Objectives: Human history can be told in terms of the history of energy. The discovery of fire, the domestication of animals, the discovery of fossil fuels, the electrification of cities, the oil wars in the Middle East, and advances in nuclear physics are all pivotal points in human history.

A number of interconnected forces drive civilization towards another turning point, the sustainability transition. These forces include the impending peak in world oil production, climate change, the erosion of most of planet’s renewable natural resources, and the struggle of developing nations to meet the basic needs of population and economic growth in a sustainable and equitable manner.  Energy is central to all of these issues.

This course is designed to provide you with the methods, tools and perspectives to understand, critique, and ultimately influence the management of technical, economic, and policy choices regarding the options for energy generation and use.  We will focus equally on the technical, economic, political, and environmental impacts of energy.  Understanding energy systems requires an interdisciplinary approach that embodies the scientific, technical, economic, social, political and environmental opportunities and impacts of our energy system. Thus, thus course will be a highly interdisciplinary experience, combining analytic tools, social, economic, historical and policy analysis from a variety of disciplines.  Over the semester we will take a roughly chronological tour of the major fuel types used in human civilization.  From there we will begin a broad-ranging analysis of the energy resource, combustion or conversion processes, waste, economic, social, political, cultural and environmental impacts and options associated with these fuels, and with the changing mix of fuels used within and across societies around the globe.

Prerequisites: None
Readings: All readings are in PDF form at the class web site.
Multimedia: Each lecture topic has a PowerPoint presentation associated with it. These files are available at the course web site.
Office Hours. I will hold regular office hours in office (STO 447) on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 to 3:00 PM.  Office hours are offered so you can receive individualized attention. If you want to speak to me in person at other times, please make an appointment.
Email: I respond to all email I get from my students.  However, please reserve email for issues and questions that require a relatively quick and concise response.  Multi-question and complicated inquires should be done in person.
Lectures: In lecture, new material is presented that will follow topics from the readings, but may differ in emphasis. All students are expected to attend lecture regularly. Besides all the obvious reasons to attend lecture, some exam questions will not be covered in the text but only covered in lecture.  I take attendance, and use it to adjust grades at the end of the semester if the situation dictates such action.

Midterm Exam 1        25%            Date:  Tuesday, September 28
Midterm Exam 2        25%            Date:  Tuesday, November 2
Assignments        25%
Final Exam         25%            Date: Thursday, December 15, 9:00-11:00 AM

Examinations: The midterm exams will take place during regular class time in the regular classroom on the dates listed above. They will be a combination of multiple-choice questions and short answer questions.  Exams are closed book and closed-notes.  Questions will be based on material covered in lecture and the readings.  Cell phones cannot be used as calculators and must be turned off and kept out of sight during all exams.  I’ll talk more about each exam as the exam date approaches. There will be NO make-up exams except in cases of documented emergencies.

Academic Honesty: Plagiarism, cheating on exams, submitting the same work for more than one course, deliberately impeding the academic performance of others and other forms of academic misconduct are serious offenses. I take them very seriously and I expect my students to do likewise. You should read the CAS Academic Conduct Code for further information about specific definitions, procedures, sanctions, etc. at

Expectations of Classroom Behavior: Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Faculty have the professional responsibility to treat students with understanding, dignity and respect, to guide classroom discussion and to set reasonable limits on the manner in which students express opinions.  All electronic devices are to be turned off, except for laptops used for note taking.  No text messaging, surfing the Web, listening to music, reading the newspaper, or use of headphones.

Religious Observances: Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to reasonably and fairly deal with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance. Please notify me as soon as possible so that the proper arrangements can be made.  Students can see full details at

Disabilities Statement: If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner so that your needs are addressed:

Intellectual Property Rights of This Course: Boston University and/or Professor Cleveland copyright the syllabus, course descriptions, and handouts created by Professor Cleveland, and all class lectures.  Except with respect to enrolled students as set forth below, the materials and lectures may not be reproduced in any form or otherwise copied, displayed or distributed, nor should works derived from them be reproduced, copied, displayed or distributed without the written permission of Professor Cleveland.  Infringement of the copyright in these materials, including any sale or commercial use of notes, summaries, outlines or other reproductions of lectures, constitutes a violation of the copyright laws and is prohibited.  Students enrolled in the course are allowed to share with other enrolled students course materials, notes, and other writings based on the course materials and lectures, but may not do so on a commercial basis or otherwise for payment of any kind.  Please note in particular that selling or buying class notes, lecture notes or summaries, or similar materials both violates copyright and interferes with the academic mission of the College of Arts and Sciences, and is therefore prohibited in this class and will be considered a violation of the student code of responsibility that is subject to academic sanctions.

Disclaimer: It is very unlikely that there will be any major changes to the content, dates, and policies for the course.  However, I reserve the right to make any changes that I deem academically advisable. Changes will be announced in class and posted on the class website.  It is your responsibility to keep up with any changed policies. It is within my purview to apply qualitative judgment in determining grades for an exam or for the course.
TOPIC                                 READING

Introduction to the course None
Role of Energy in Human History Smil (2000)
Fundamentals of Energy Science Priest (1991)
Fundamentals of Energy Science Hinrichs  and Kleinbach (2002)
Overview of Energy Supply, Demand and Storage    EIA web site
Economic Analysis of Energy Systems Rubin (2001), Chapter 13
Net Energy and Life Cycle Analysis Rubin (2001), Chapter 7
Crude Oil and Natural Gas Tester et al., Ch. 7
Coal Tester et al., Ch. 7
Nuclear Tester et al., Ch. 8
No Class—Monday Schedule
Wind Tester et al., Ch. 15
Solar Tester et al., Ch. 13
Biofuels Tester et al., Ch. 10
Geothermal and Ocean Energy Tester et al., Ch. 11 & 14
Hydrogen & Fuel Cells Brandon (2004)
Electricity Tester et al., Ch. 17
Industrial and residential energy use Tester et al., Ch. 19
Transportation energy use Tester et al., Ch. 18
Air Pollution Mihelcic (2009)
Climate Change Lecture Notes
Oil Spills Cleveland (2010)
No class—Fall recess
Energy and Human Well-Being Clancy and Skutsch (2009)
Energy and Conflict
Energy and Culture TBA
Geopolitics of Energy Korin, Chs. 2 & 4
Energy Policy Bader et al., Ch. 10


  • Smil, V. (2000) “Energy in the Twentieth Century: Resources, conversions, costs, uses and consequences,” Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, 25, 21 – 51
  • Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, “Energy Explained,” Available at: <<>>
  • Priest, Joseph . 1991. Energy: Principles, Problems, Alternatives (New York: Addison-Wesley, Chapter 2.
  • Hinrichs, Roger A. and Merlin Kleinbach. 2002. Energy: Its Use and the Environment (New York: Harcourt), Chapter 4
  • Rubin, Edward S. 2001. Introduction to Engineering and the Environment (Boston: McGraw-Hill).
  • Cleveland, Cutler “Energy return on investment (EROI).” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Available at <>
  • Tester, Jefferson W.,  Elisabeth M. Drake, Michael J. Driscoll, Michael W. Golay, William A. Peters. 2005. Sustainable Energy: Choosing Among Options, (Cambridge, the MIT Press).
  • Brandon, Nigel,  Fuel Cells, In: Cutler J. Cleveland, Editor(s)-in-Chief, Encyclopedia of Energy, Elsevier, New York, 2004, Pages 749-758
  • Mihelcic James R. and Julie B. Zimmerman. 2009. Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, Design, ((Wiley, NY), Chapter 12
  • Clancy, Joy S. and Margaret Skutsch, 2009. The Gender-Energy-Poverty Nexus, Technology and Development Group, University of Twente, Working Paper CNTR998521
  • Biggart, Nicole Woolsey and Loren Lutzenhiser. 2007.  Economic Sociology and the Social Problem of Energy Inefficiency, American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 50, No. 8, 1070-1087
  • Korin,  Anne and Gal Luft (Editors). 2009. Energy Security Challenges for the 21st Century: A Reference Handbook, (Praeger, NY), Chapters 2 and 4
  • Bader, Jeffrey, Stephen Biegun, Ivo Bozon, and Diana Farrel. 2008. The Global Politics of Energy, (The Aspen Institute), Chapter 10.