ECEN 1500

Sustainable Energy

- Fall Semester 2014 -


-          Welcome to the class! I look forward to exploring this exciting and timely topic with all of you.

This page was last updated on August 25, 2014.



Catalog Description: This course explores how energy is created and used in today's society. Through collaborative discussion and some data collection, students will analyze the engineering challenges, fundamental limits, and potential solutions to meeting our energy needs sustainably. Students will learn to analyze numerical data, estimate orders of magnitude, and apply mathematical methods in their own lives and in the on-going energy debate


Course Objective: This course is designed to be a flagship class offered to non-engineering majors through the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. The goal is to prepare a new generation of informed citizens from all disciplines that can contribute meaningfully to the energy debate. The course has been designed in coordination with the campus-wide Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI). The course centers on an engineering math component including some basic data collection and analysis, order of magnitude estimations, application and manipulation of mathematically expressed physical relations and basic engineering design issues. In short the course is designed to empower students such as those from Journalism and Economics with the mathematical tools and engineering understanding in order to be active drivers in energy issues.


Prerequisites: Basic algebra is required as a prerequisite; an entrance quiz will be given at the end of the first week of class to ensure that everyone does have this necessary background. Basic Excel (knowledge of how to create and use a spreadsheet) will also be helpful.


Instructor:        Professor Lucy Pao

Office: ECOT 350 (ECOT is the Engineering Center Office Tower)

Phone: 303-492-2360

Email: pao at colorado dot edu

Office hours:

MWF 3:00pm-4:00pm in ECOT 350

Tuesdays 10:30am-11:30am in ECOT 350

or by appointment


Lectures:        MWF 2:00-2:50pm



Textbook:       David J.C. MacKay, Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. UIT Cambridge, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9544529-3-3

Available for free online at

Or here: DavidMacKay.pdf


Other material will posted (to Desire2Learn site) throughout the semester. Here are a few examples (in chronological order):

o   Front Range Oil And Gas Operations Leak 3x More Than Estimated, University of Colorado Boulder News, May 14, 2014

o   My First Year with a Plug-in Hybrid, by Steven Johnson, June 27, 2014

o   2030 Market Outlook for Renewables, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, July 1, 2014



Desire2Learn: All materials for the course, including pre- and post-lectures and assignments, will be posted in electronic form on the course website at Use your CU IdentiKey to log in. It is suggested that you check the course site regularly for updates and new material.


iClickers: This course will use iClickers to allow students to actively participate and answer questions during each class. If you do not already have an iClicker remote, you can purchase one at the CU Book and register the device at Instructions on how to register your iClicker can be found at Even if you have previously used your iClicker for a different course, you should go to the registration site and ensure that your iClicker is registered. iClicker questions will be asked in every lecture, so bring your iClicker to every class. iClickers sometimes do not perform properly. It is your responsibility to make sure that your iClicker is working satisfactorily.


Homework: Assigned and due approximately every 1.5 weeks during first 13 weeks. Approximately half of the homeworks will be due by 4pm on due date; and about half of the homeworks will be due at the beginning (2pm) of class if there is an upcoming quiz or midterm and the homework solutions will be distributed immediately in class. For 4pm due times, you can either hand completed homework in at the beginning (2pm) of class or to me in my office during office hours after class (3pm-4pm). Graded (a random sample of the problems will be checked in detail, while the others will be checked coarsely). Discussing problems with others is allowed and encouraged to more fully understand the material and learn different approaches to solving the problems, although each student must write up and hand in his or her individual homework solutions.

Homework assignments are penalized 20% for each day late. Solutions will be posted 5 days after the due date. No late homework assignments will be accepted after solutions are distributed; solutions may be distributed earlier than usual if there is an upcoming quiz or midterm.

Project: More details will be provided in a Project Handout in September. Report and Presentation will be due in early December.


Quizzes and Exams: Three 15-minute quizzes, two 50-minute midterms, and one 150-minute final exam are planned. All quizzes and exams are closed-book, and no calculators are allowed.


Reading: In the tentative schedule below (and in a separate calendar view of the course schedule (which will be posted on the course site at, a reading assignment is indicated for each week (and each lecture). Except for the first day of class, the lectures are designed assuming that you have read the material before coming to class, and I will use lectures to go into further depth and expand on some aspects of the discussion in the textbook.


Course Credit: Total 3 credit hours; this means that you should expect to spend at least 6 hours per week on the course outside of lectures. 

This course satisfies the QRMS core requirement for Arts and Sciences. This course also qualifies as a substitute of the required ENVS/PHYS 3070 course in CU-Boulder's undergraduate energy certificate program.


Assignment / Assessment


Entrance Quiz


Participation (iClicker points)


Homework (approximately 9)


Project and Presentation


Quizzes (approximately 3)


Midterm 1 (in class)


Midterm 2 (in class)


Final Exam




Approximate course topic schedule:





Reading pages


Introduction and motivation. What is energy? Why sustainable?

1, 2, I-K

1-28, 327-343


(no class Monday)

Energy for cars and planes. Energy from solar.

3, 5, 6

29-31, 35-49,


Energy for heating and cooling, and lighting. Energy from hydro and wind.

4, 7-9, D

32-34, 50-59, 283-288


Energy from wind, offshore wind, and algae systems (guest lecture).

10, B

 60-67, 263-268


Energy from wave. Energy for food and gadgets. Quiz 1.

11-13, F

68-80, 307-310


Energy for stuff. Review. Midterm 1.

15, H

88-95, 322-326


Energy from tide and geothermal. Energy for defense. How does it add up? Project proposals due.

14, 16-19, G

81-87, 96-117, 311-321


Engineering better transport: Cars and planes.

20, A, C

118-139, 253-262, 269-282


Engineering better heating. Quiz 2.

21-22, E

140-156, 289-306


Sustainable finite resources.

23, 24



Importing renewable energy. Power fluctuations. Draft project reports due. Review.

25, 26



Midterm 2. Energy plan options.




How can we make it add up? Quiz 3.




Fall Break




Final project reports due. Project presentations.




Project presentations Possible Tour / Review.




Final Exam, Wednesday, December 17, 7:30pm-10:00pm







Q: How much time per week do I need to spend on this class?

A. Three hours in lecture and at least six hours outside of class on homework, reading, and review.


Q: Is there a textbook for the course?

A. Yes. It is free and on line.


Q: What will I know after the class that I do not know now?  

A. You will know how to critically look at data on energy and power, what the units mean, how to calculate basic quantities, and how to have a meaningful and competent discussion on energy-related issues. You will also learn about engineering challenges in sustainable energy.


Q: What does “student participation” mean?

A. We want you to be able to talk about energy issues confidently and accurately. We will practice this during the class.


Q: What will the homework assignments look like?

A. Homework assignments will be based on material from the textbook, the lectures, and occasionally from outside readings. In some cases, you will be able to find information on the web, but you will be asked to critically view this information.


Q: What is the project about?

A. The project will give you the opportunity to explore a topic that is related to class and is something you are particularly interested in. You will be able to work in small groups. Some example project topics include:

-          Obtain data on wind speeds from NOAA and the Weather Underground and propose good sites for wind farms.

-          Design and make your own sustainable bike light.

-          Compare turbine designs for wind, hydro-electric plants, or tidal waves.

-          Estimate our renewable “reserves”, e.g., solar.

-          Calculations for an energy-efficient house (Chapter E in textbook applied to US homes)

-          Critically analyze geological data on global warming and its relation to energy use and carbon emissions.

-          Critically analyze some aspect of a book or movie and back it up with data.



Policies and Regulations:  The following policies and regulations apply for this course.


Honor Code. All students of the University of Colorado Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273). Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). Other information on the Honor Code can be found at and The instructor reserves the right to use anti-plagiarism software to help determine the originality of term papers.


Cell Phones. Out of respect for other students and the instructor, it is mandatory that cell phones or other personal electronic devices with audio capabilities be turned off during class. Cell phones or other devices with communications capabilities are not permitted during quizzes and exams.


Calculators. Calculators are not permitted during any of the quizzes or exams. Quizzes and exams will test concepts, and any calculations required should all be readily doable by hand.


Electronic Communication. Questions on the course material, schedule, or policies may be e-mailed to the instructor. E-mailed questions will be addressed as soon as possible, although given the volume of e-mail received these days, a delay of a couple days may occur. All course-related e-mails should include the course number in the subject line.


Disability Accommodations. If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit a letter to me from Disability Services within the first 3 weeks of the course so that your needs can be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by e-mail at More information can be found at


Religious Observances. If you have religious obligations that will conflict with scheduled exams, quizzes, or assignment due dates, please inform me at least 3 weeks in advance so that we can discuss reasonable accommodations. In most cases, assignments will be posted well in advance to aid all students in planning their time. Campus policies regarding religious observances are detailed at


Classroom Behavior. Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, color, culture, religion, creed, politics, veteran's status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression, age, disability, and nationalities. See policies at and


Discrimination and Harassment. The University of Colorado Boulder is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. The University of Colorado policies on Discrimination and Harassment apply to all students, staff, and faculty. More information can be found at