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University of Rhode Island — Environmental & Natural Resource Economics
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EEC 350 – Our Global Energy Future: Can We Power the Planet Sustainably?
Course Information

Professor: Dr. James Opaluch and Dr. Marion Gold
Semester: Fall
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: EEC 205

Catalog Description: Technical, economic, social and behavioral aspects of energy

Course Goals & Outcomes

One of the most exciting and important challenges of the 21st century is ensuring a sustainable and dependable energy supply. Energy plays an important role in every facet of society from our economic and environmental health to the quality of life in our homes and communities. In order to power our planet sustainably, we will need to restructure everything from individual energy usage to global power systems.

In this course, you will examine the energy-related issues facing our society, so that as global citizens, you can participate in the development of informed and realistic energy policy. The course is interdisciplinary and will address technical, economic, social and behavioral aspects of energy. Following this overview class, you may elect to pursue investigation of one of the critical energy issues within a specific major such as engineering, environmental economics, environmental management, business, communications, etc.

In ‘Our Global Energy Future’ we will explore the challenges of making the transition from a society dependent on carbon-intensive fossil fuels, to a sustainable society based on renewable energy sources. Doing so will require rebuilding our society around new infrastructure for these alternative energy sources, and will require making fundamental changes in the way humans use energy. The transition will also require that we develop effective long-term strategies for innovative research.

By the end of the semester students will be able to:

  • Be an informed participant in the debate on local, regional and global energy issues
  • Describe your own energy behavior: how much energy do you use in your daily life, where does that energy comes from and how much does it cost; and how does your energy use relate to climate change and other environmental issues
  • Explain the University of Rhode Island’s energy system and evaluate the costs and benefits of future URI energy management scenarios
  • Describe the regional energy supply and demand situation now and discuss alternative futures for energy production
  • Assess the scale required for renewable energy facilities to make a significant contribution to meeting our energy needs
  • Estimate the impact that stringent efficiencies measures could have on energy consumption
  • Evaluate whether new much-publicized technologies such as smart grid or electric cars are essential contributors to solving our energy problems, or whether they will simply create more problems than they solve
  • Evaluate how the energy plans and policies being developed at local, state, national and global scales address development of a sustainable energy system
  • Describe how the opportunities available at regional, state and local scales will be influenced by the economics and politics of a global energy system
  • Assess the potential role of policies such as real-time electricity pricing in conserving electricity
Course Syllabus

Class topics:

  • Climate Change & URI Climate Action Plan
  • Energy Consumption: How Do We Use Energy and How Much Do We Use?
  • Coal, Oil, Gas: How Much Is There? Where Does It Come From? Political and Environmental Impacts?
  • Energy Efficiency & Conservation
  • Renewable Energy I: On and Offshore Wind
  • Renewable Energy II: Small and Large Scale Solar
  • Smart Grid Technologies
  • Transportation: Alternative fuel vehicles; electric vehicles and beyond
  • The Nuclear Debate
  • Green Markets
  • Energy Policy
About The Professor

Dr. James J. Opaluch
Professor & Department Chair
Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
210 Kingston Coastal Institute
Office: 401.874.4590
Fax: 401.782.4766

Dr. Opaluch is a resource economist specializing in decision research and policy simulation. His current research interests include:

  • technological change in offshore oil industry and
  • ecosystem services restoration.
Reasons To Take This Course

The course is broad in scope, and has an essential interdisciplinary nature. Our vision for the class is to create a participatory learning process that will combine your active involvement in “lectures/discussion” with a project-based approach. The projects will bring student teams together to conduct analyses that will help URI and southern New England communities make tangible improvements in their energy management systems.

This course is a requirement for environmental and natural resource economics majors.

Cool Links
  • U.S. Energy Information Administration - This is one of the most comprehensive and reliable sources of information on various topics on energy resources and related environmental issues like climate change. Here you can find out what types of renewable and alternative energy sources are available, how they work, and how much of our energy comes from these sources. Also, check out the interesting statistics about the non-renewable energy resources like petroleum, coal, and natural gas.
  • International Energy Agency - This is a great international energy information source with a stated focus on energy security, environmental awareness, and economic development. Here you can find a great variety of energy-related topics such as fusion power, energy efficiency, greenhouse gases, and energy projections.