The Global Energy Challenge

Open House Presentation

Durwin Striplin, Chemistry, Davidson College

Note:  This seminar takes place at Discovery Place.

The development of modern civilization has been perceived to be a story about the influences of religions and emperors, wars and invasions, and science and art, but it also can be a tale about the availability of practical energy resources and the ingenious technologies we have devised to extract and use it.  Our advancements, especially in the areas of health and longevity of life, correlate directly with our energy use, but our growing global addiction to energy has lead to a query about what it has cost us in terms of the world’s atmosphere and climate.

This leads us to pertinent questions centered on the topic of energy that could be explored:

1.  What is energy?  What are the different flavors and forms of energy?  What are the typical ways we produce it and transport it?

2.  What is the history of energy use and the connections to history and the humanities?

3.  What are the projected energy needs of the planet in the future?  This discussion will necessitate studying the economic and energy patterns of not just the US but all countries.  How can we project the scale of such need so that our students can understand the sheer scale of the energy we may require in the future?  Is there an energy crisis on the horizon?

4.  What technologies are available now and will be available in the near future that can scale to meet the future global energy requirements?  This will involve exploring the science behind the technology, the present and future fuel resources needed to feed the technology, the real economic costs of scaling the technology, taking a hard look at the thermodynamic and efficiency limitations of the technology, and exploring the environmental impacts and sustainability of the tech.  Is it possible and/or even feasible to provide all of our energy needs with just sustainable technologies alone?

5.  What is the real impact of energy conservation?

6.  What does our energy future look like?  What societal changes are possible?  What would an energy policy need to look like for the US now so we can be insured of adequate energy in the future?  How will we define quality of life as we move towards a planet that might contain 9 billion people, all vying for the planet’s energy resources?

Explore curriculum units developed by Fellows in this seminar here.