American Society of Civil Engineers


Energy and Environment Undergraduate Course Emphasizing Comparative Metrics


by Daniel S. Cohan, (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice Univ., 6100 Main St., MS 519, Houston, TX. E-mail: cohan.rice.edu)

Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, Vol. 137, No. 2, April 2011, pp. 64-68, (doi:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)EI.1943-5541.0000045)

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Document type: Journal Paper
Special Issue: Sustainability in Civil and Environmental Engineering Education
Abstract: This paper presents the pedagogical development of an undergraduate course in energy and the environment at Rice University and the crucial role of comparative metrics in its curriculum. The course, aimed at undergraduate engineering and science majors, overviews the physical principles that constrain energy use and explores how various sectors and fuels affect Earth’s environment and climate. The curriculum emphasizes the application of objective metrics for comparing the cost, energy intensity, and environmental impacts of various energy sources. Such metrics provide alternate approaches for assessing the relative merits of energy options but are neglected in most undergraduate textbooks. Thus, the course relies on assignments derived from supplemental readings to prompt students to compute comparative metrics and critically assess the approaches taken by energy researchers. A term project engages student teams in designing and evaluating original proposals for improving the use of an energy source from the perspective of a scientist, businessperson, or policymaker.


ASCE Subject Headings:
Engineering education
Curricula
Energy
Environmental issues
Sustainable development
Undergraduate study

Author Keywords:
Engineering education
Curricula
Energy
Environmental issues
Sustainability