Renewable Technologies 1b: Sustainable Energy

Course Overview

Units at a glance

Solar energy is getting a lot of attention. The sun provides lots and lots of energy, and we can use it in our homes and offices without having to use the local power company. Technologies that harness solar energy are varied and sophisticated. The sun’s heat can be used in many ways, including providing steam for traditional power plants. However, these technologies are still immature. So large-scale solar power continues to be expensive. It can also be unreliable when the sun is not shining. In this unit, you’ll learn about solar energy and the exciting ways we can use it to power our lives.

Wind energy has been around for centuries, as early as 5000 BCE. But it’s been getting a lot of attention lately as a renewable energy technology. It’s clean and sustainable, but wind turbines take up a lot of land and make a lot of noise. In addition, harnessing wind energy requires an area where the climate is optimal, and the land is preferably flat and rural. In areas with a lot of wind, this renewable technology is inexpensive and ideal, especially for homeowners who want to power their own homes. In this unit, you’ll learn more about how wind energy is created and the advantages and disadvantages of using it as an energy source.

Amongst sources of energy, biomass is the oldest. When humans first set a fire using wood, biomass energy was born. In this unit, you’ll learn about how we get electricity from biomass and biofuel. You’ll also learn about the process of converting biomass to biofuels. Finally, you’ll look at the different options for using biofuels and the pros and cons of both biomass and biofuels.

By now you know that energy is everywhere. And we could get it from anywhere. It’s just a matter of finding out how to convert it so we can use it for electricity. In this last unit, you’ll learn about geothermal and hydroelectric energy. Both of these renewable energy technologies use the earth’s natural energy. One uses the heat deep in the earth’s crust; the other uses the power of water.

Electricity is a huge part of modern life. Without it, our lives would very, very different. A romantic might say there would be more candlelight and horses to ride—but others, like the English writer Thomas Hobbes, would say life without access to reliable power would once again become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” For this reason, thinking about the future of energy is critical if we hope to provide a comfortable, safe, and sustainable life for generations to come. And a big part of this thinking involves understanding a bit about our past, our present, our potential future, and how the decisions we make right now are changing the shape of our civilization. Energy is a powerful thing, and we have the ability to use it to achieve great things. The question is, will we?

Course Highlights

Examine applications of renewable technologies and available career paths in this growing industry.
Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy technologies.
Discover how environmental phenomenon, such as geothermal hot springs, can be harnessed to provide energy.
Explore the future of renewable technologies.

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