2:30 – 3:45 p.m.
The premise of this course is that the transition to an energy system based on renewable energy and greater efficiency is not a purely technological problem. Energy systems are socio-technical systems; they require, and in turn reinforce, particular social institutions and practices. The electrical power system, for example, does not consist only of generators, switches and wires, but includes social organizations like utilities, a regulatory framework, engineers, maintenance personnel, consumers, even a set of cultural beliefs. Productive thinking about how energy transition can be accomplished therefore calls for a deep understanding of the development of our fossil fuel-based civilization in socio-technical terms. We need to constantly ask how our society has to change in order to transition to an energy system that will be sustainable. While complete coverage of such a vast topic is impossible in one semester, the course aims to convey a way of thinking about energy systems, consisting not of technology alone, but as sociotechnical systems.
The course will focus on six specific topics:
- The origins of fossil fuel civilization in the industrial revolution
- Electrification and social change in the U.S.
- Households, gender, and energy
- The history and current politics of coal in Appalachia
- The contemporary geopolitics of energy
- Policies and prospects for energy transition