The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained

Course No. 1363
Professor Michael E. Wysession, Ph.D.
Washington University in St. Louis
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Course No. 1363
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn how photosynthesis, combustion, and heat engines work.
  • numbers Examine the science behind petroleum: how it's formed, how it's found and processed, how it's transported, and how it's used.
  • numbers Examine the inner-workings of a power plant to learn how nuclear energy is generated.
  • numbers Go inside the world of photovoltaic solar panels to find out how they convert sunlight into functional power.
  • numbers Look at geothermal energy and discover two main ways of using geothermal energy, plus examine five different technologies used for hydrothermal power systems.
  • numbers Review the pros and cons of using one of the newest forms of energy: biofuels.

Course Overview

Energy is, without a doubt, the very foundation of the universe. It’s the engine that powers life and fuels the evolution of human civilization.

Yet for all its importance, what energy really is and how it works remains a mystery to most non-scientists. For example:

  • Where does most of our energy come from, and how is it sourced?
  • How do energy technologies, both primitive and cutting-edge, generate power?
  • How do we store energy—and will there be enough to meet our future needs?
  • What are the pros and cons behind the forms of energy currently available to us?
  • How might we harness potential future energy sources such as earthquakes and supervolcanoes?

All too often, the answers to questions like these are bogged down in polemics and controversy. Imagine, then, how these and other questions could be discussed from a purely factual, scientific perspective. The truth is, to better put into perspective the various issues surrounding energy in the 21st century, you need to understand the essential science behind how energy works. And you need a reliable source whose focus is on giving you the facts you need to form your own educated opinions.

In the 24 lectures of The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained, award-winning professor and expert geophysicist Michael E. Wysession of Washington University in St. Louis presents an unbiased investigation into the energy sources that power our world. Vividly illustrated with animations, 3-D graphics, graphs, in-studio demonstrations, and other visuals that make scientific and mathematical concepts approachable and understandable, The Science of Energy is a marvelous window into the inner workings of energy that will keep you constantly engaged.

Professor Wysession walks you through a wide portfolio of renewable and non-renewable energy sources, including coal, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear fission. You’ll examine how these sources work, the engineering marvels that adapt them to human needs, the economic and environmental consequences of using them, and more. Whatever exciting, rapid changes await us in the coming decades (from food production to public transportation to industrial manufacturing), they’ll most certainly require lots of power. For this reason and many more, this course imparts essential information for any well-informed citizen of the world—whether you’re powering a major city or simply turning on the bathroom light.

Evoking Energy from Every Element

The Science of Energy provides you with a thorough, understandable introduction to the fundamentals of different energy sources that we often take for granted. With the same attention to detail and accessibility that makes Professor Wysession one of The Great Courses’ most popular science instructors, his lectures offer a fascinating way to grasp the essentials of the world’s varied energy sources.

  • Fossil fuels: Coal and petroleum are responsible for the remarkable industrial transformation of human culture over the past few centuries. A sedimentary rock, coal develops in stages with progressively more carbon—which determines how “dirty” or “clean” the coal burns. Petroleum, on the other hand, derives from the fossils of once-living ocean organisms (mostly one-celled plankton) tens of millions of years old.
  • Hydroelectricity: Hydropower provides an estimated 1/6 of the world’s total electricity. The basic principle behind how it works is that, as water falls down through the power plant, its gravitational potential energy converts into the kinetic energy of the motion of the water, which turns the turbines of a generator.
  • Nuclear energy: When most people talk about nuclear power, they’re referring to nuclear fission, or the splitting of large atoms to release energy. Relative to human time scales, nuclear energy can provide nearly unlimited power by processing ocean water for available uranium (only a small amount of which is needed to generate electricity).
  • Solar energy: Solar energy’s main engineering marvels are photovoltaic solar panels that convert sunlight directly into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit a photoelectric effect. While solar energy is constantly renewable, it’s also very geographically dependent; for example, solar power is less effective in a place like Seattle, where it rains a lot.
  • Wind energy: People have been harnessing the power of wind for thousands of years with technologies like sailing ships and windmills. But as civilizations have advanced, so too have the technologies to transform wind into a reliable (and renewable) power source. Wind turbines, for example, work like plane propellers in reverse: the natural wind blows through the rotors and then generates a force that powers the engine.

Learn How Energy Shapes Our Lives

“Humans consume an enormous amount of energy,” says Professor Wysession, “and countless decisions are made every day—locally, nationally, internationally—to make sure our supply of energy remains available, affordable, and uninterrupted.” As you explore the science of energy sources, you’ll also delve into their impact on everything from economic trade agreements to geographical dependency to environmental pollution. The goal of these lectures is not to choose a particular side in the energy debate; rather, it’s to illustrate just how far-reaching this science is in our lives. Much of the second half of this course is devoted to probing fascinating questions about energy’s role and influence in a range of subjects, from natural science and sociology to nuclear physics and meteorology.

  • Energy and technology: How can scientists and engineers tap into the energy potential of natural disasters? What technological methods help us remove many of the pollutants that occur during combustion? What intricate technologies are required to keep a nuclear plant functioning safely?
  • Energy and economics: What hidden factors are responsible for the rise and fall of oil prices around the world? Which are more cost-effective: electric or gas-powered cars? How do government incentives and disincentives impact various energy industries?
  • Energy and geography: Why are particular regions of the planet more enriched with petroleum sources? What factors make the world’s coastlines optimal for building wind turbines to harvest wind energy? How does heavy cloud coverage influence the effectiveness of solar panels?
  • Energy and the environment: How does the process of fracking for oil lead to potentially dangerous earthquakes? What are the best ways to store nuclear waste, and what exactly happens during a nuclear plant meltdown? Just how serious is our current era of global warming?

Get a Practical Education in Energy Science

An acclaimed teacher with a devotion to geoscience education, Professor Wysession is passionate about sharing this vital information with a broad audience. He brings to these lectures a fascination with just how intricate the universe is, and his dedication to sharing that fascination makes this course accessible and engaging for lifelong learners of all backgrounds. Whether he’s explaining the basics of the water cycle or the potential for harvesting energy from supervolcanoes, his work here is designed to help you better think about (and talk about) how we power our lives.

Over millennia, our ability to harness varied forms of energy has driven the ascending progress of our cultures, economies, and governments. The extraordinary world-spanning civilizations that we have built rely utterly on a vast, dependable, and lasting supply of energy. The choices we make—as consumers, as contributors, as citizens—have profound consequences for how the world will continue to develop. The Science of Energy gives you the clear and objective facts you need to choose well.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 33 minutes each
  • 1
    Energy and Human Civilization
    How much energy is required to power human civilization? What is it that makes our cities, factories, homes, and cars so energy inefficient? How can the average individual affect energy directions? Find out in this overview of how energy touches everything from engineering and economics to biology, chemistry, and geophysics. x
  • 2
    Energy: Forms and Conversion for Use
    Energy is a fundamental part of our universe-in a sense, the universe is energy. Here, Professor Wysession introduces you to the many fascinating forms energy takes, including potential, kinetic, mechanical, and thermal energy. He also explains how energy is measured to make you more fluent in energy-speak" for the coming lectures." x
  • 3
    Heat: The Transfer and Flow of Energy
    One of the first forms of energy that humans learned to use is heat. You'll examine three ways heat flows (radiation, convection, conduction); make sense of the heat flow equation and the concept of entropy; and go inside the inner workings of a heat engine" machine." x
  • 4
    Electricity: Ultimate Energy Converter
    Discover what makes electricity such an attractive vehicle for energy. Learn how electricity can come from oil, coal, solar, and other forces, and how electricity travels through wires with the help of voltage. Also, examine recent advances that make it easier for us to choose where we source our electricity. x
  • 5
    Chemical Energy, Biomass, and Photosynthesis
    Turn now to chemical energy, the potential energy resulting from the position of atoms within molecules. After an overview of photosynthesis (perhaps the universe's most amazing form of energy conversion), learn how combustion transforms biofuels into light and heat, and how energy density affects the transportation of biofuels like petroleum. x
  • 6
    Coal: Convenient, Energy-Dense Fuel
    Understand one of energy's most polarizing topics: coal. Where does coal come from, and how does it develop? What makes coal clean" or "dirty"? Why do certain nations have the largest coal reserves? What are some advantages to coal energy? And how does strip mining impact the environment?" x
  • 7
    Petroleum: Chemistry, Retrieval, and Use
    In the first of two lectures on petroleum, examine the science behind this common fossil fuel: how it's formed, how it's found and processed, how it's transported, and how it's used. You'll also gain insights into related topics, including geologic structures such as anticlines and the growth of the petroleum industry. x
  • 8
    New Petroleum Directions
    Peer into the future with this look at some of the newest trends in oil and gas production. Professor Wysession explains the difference between conventional and unconventional oil, the geology of oil sands and oil shales, and the risks of fracking (which can cause earthquakes and other serious damage). x
  • 9
    Fossil Fuel Energy: Issues and Concerns
    Fossil fuels, while abundant and portable, come with a significant list of drawbacks. Focus now on the various financial, environmental, and health concerns surrounding our continued reliance on fossil fuels (such as coal fires and oil spills). Then, examine some recent technological and legislative efforts to combat these problems. x
  • 10
    Understanding Carbon Dioxide
    Carbon dioxide is a pollutant so significant to human civilization that Professor Wysession devotes an entire lecture to it. If CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, how can it be so harmful? Is global warming a natural process? What actions can we take to reduce the dangers of CO2? x
  • 11
    The Science of Nuclear Power
    Travel to the subatomic level for a fascinating exploration of how nuclear energy is generated. It's an eye-opening lecture that touches on everything from nuclear fission and radioactive decay to the inner workings of nuclear power plants and the attendant fears and concerns of core meltdowns. x
  • 12
    The Nuclear Fission Fuel Cycle
    Professor Wysession explains how uranium is used to make electricity through the process of nuclear fission, from acquiring uranium-bearing rocks to disposing of leftover nuclear waste. Afterwards, learn some of the upsides of nuclear energy (including its nearly unlimited power) and its downsides (such as its inability to become decentralized or portable). x
  • 13
    Sunlight: Inexhaustible Energy Source
    Sunlight is a literally inexhaustible source of energy. Discover why (and how) the sun gives off light, how much sunlight energy the earth's surface gets in an average day, how much land we'd need to supply all our energy needs through sunlight, and some of the geographical problems with solar power. x
  • 14
    Solar Power and Electricity
    The biggest area of growth for solar energy: transforming sunlight into electricity with the aid of solar panels. Go inside the world of photovoltaic solar panels to find out how they convert sunlight into functional power. Also, take a closer look at other solar-related technologies, like solar troughs, solar towers, and Stirling engines. x
  • 15
    Wind Power and Electricity
    Wind power is another growing source of renewable energy. First, discover how giant wind turbines provide us with energy. Then, get a brief history of how humans have tapped into wind's potential and the meteorology of how wind works. Finally, learn the best regions for wind power and the advantages and drawbacks of using wind turbines. x
  • 16
    Hydroelectric Power: Electricity from Water
    Hydroelectric power continues to be the planet's largest renewable source of electricity. In this lecture, Professor Wysession discusses the benefits of hydroelectric power (no CO2 production, free fuel) and drawbacks (environmental disruption); how hydroelectricity generation works; run-of-the-river and impoundment-style power plants; and the basics of the water cycle. x
  • 17
    Biofuels: Biodiesel and Ethanol
    Liquid biofuels like biodiesel and corn-based ethanol are the most rapidly growing forms of biomass energy in the 21st century. Here, survey some of the many intriguing chemical reaction routes that transform solid plant biomass into liquids with high-energy densities. Then, ponder some of the economic and political implications of biofuels. x
  • 18
    Geothermal Energy
    Go deep underground for a look at geothermal energy. Topics include the energy budget of our planet, two main ways of using geothermal energy, five different technologies used for hydrothermal power systems (including dry steam power plants), and the concept of shallow ground source heat pumps (GSHPs). x
  • 19
    Energy Storage Technologies
    The sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow. So how do we store renewable energy from these and other sources for later? Focus on several basic (as well as high-performance and high-volume) technologies for storing the surplus of energy we can get from sources such as wind and solar farms. x
  • 20
    Energy Needs for Transportation
    Transportation is an enormous part of our global total energy consumption. From planes to trains to automobiles, learn how scientists are working to make popular modes of transportation as fuel-efficient as possible. Also, explore the topic of electric cars and whether or not they're truly more efficient than gas-powered ones. x
  • 21
    Energy Efficiency: Technologies and Trends
    Where is energy commonly being wasted? How does one become a more efficient energy user? This lecture is filled with takeaways to help anyone (from home owner to car driver to CEO) become more energy efficient in a range of sectors and settings: industries, transportation, residences, and commercial buildings. x
  • 22
    Energy Sources: Economics and Politics
    Professor Wysession outlines some of the major economic and political forces shaping the development of the world's energy resources. You'll learn how hidden costs can affect the economics of supply and demand, how governments can incentivize and dis-incentivize energy industries, and the complexities of international agreements (and trade wars). x
  • 23
    Probable and Possible Future Energy Sources
    Look ahead to the possible (and probable) advancements in the areas of energy resources. You'll cover the growth of tidal and wave energy, the difficulty of nuclear fusion, the energy potential of earthquakes and supervolcanoes, and giant space arrays of solar panels designed to capture even more solar energy. x
  • 24
    Energy Trends: Planning for the Near Future
    According to Professor Wysession, there's no easy solution to the world's energy future. Going through many of the sources explored in previous lectures, he estimates how much energy we'll need, what sources are (and will be) available to us, and how to think realistically-and optimistically-about our energy consumption. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos, Illustrations, and Tables
  • Suggested Reading
  • Questions to Consider

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Your professor

Michael E. Wysession

About Your Professor

Michael E. Wysession, Ph.D.
Washington University in St. Louis
Dr. Michael E. Wysession is the Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Wysession earned his Sc.B. in Geophysics from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. An established leader in seismology and geophysical education, Professor Wysession is noted for his development of a new way to create three-dimensional images of Earth's interior from seismic...
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The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 65.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Enigma of Energy. Quite a good course in general well taught and presented. The video clips graphics and animations were good albeit with somewhat political overtones. Recommended.
Date published: 2016-12-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Energy This course is very informative for every consumer and citizen. It is especially informative for potential energy investors because it provides incites into the motivations of the various players in the energy markets. At the very least the viewer will be left with deeper and better questions about this important subject.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SCIENCE OF ENERGY I work in the energy field and this is wonderful course to take. I have been impressed with the courses I have studied here and will continue to do so. Great information and great value. It also provides insight into further investigation of information discussed. Have passed the site on to others.
Date published: 2016-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Extremely Thorough and Unbiased Overview I found this course a very information packed review of the many aspects of energy use and production without digging into the physics. I think if more people in the US including all our policy makers watched this course we might have a rational energy policy.
Date published: 2016-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hot stuff a very detailed, a very fundamental, presentation of an extremely important topic. This is not a physics course though it contains a great deal of physics. This is a course intended to help a layman understand where the energy he uses every day without thinking about it comes from and the problems associated with it.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Major Disappointment Prior to watching this course I was a strong admirer of Professor Wysession. If you glance at my review of his course on the Greatest Geological Wonders, you will see that I thought his presentation was outstanding. That is the reason I decided to buy this course. I presumed he would present an unbiased review of the energy options available and the advantages/disadvantages of each. In one of the first chapters this is just what Dr. Wysession said he was prepared to do. However the longer I watched, the more disillusioned I became. It was apparent to me that he had a deep seated bias against the burning/use of fossil fuels and even if he did not consciously intend to display this bias, it came through loud and clear. I have nothing against the proliferation of renewable energy and believe in its utility, but, I was not prepared to be lectured to by a renewable energy activist. This unmistakable bias lessened the value of the course to me. I firmly believe that if you present the facts fairly, the listener will be able to make his/her own conclusions about what they represent. However, when facts are presented that obviously favor one conclusion, then the overall utility of the argument is degraded. If you are a renewable energy advocate, you will probably love this course. But if you want to hear an unbiased account of energy utility, then I recommend you look elsewhere.
Date published: 2016-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Science of Energy: A Must See I feel "The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained" provided a most complete, understandable, and balanced view of the critical energy choices facing the world today. I believe it is a "must see" for anyone who would like to gain a truly factual understanding of this complex topic.
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Course No more cards and letters folks, we have a winner. If Michael Wysession gets any better, the Great Courses is going to have to invent new subjects for him. I have taken 3 or Dr. Wysession's courses and he is super in all of them. He knows what material in each topic to present, at what level to present it and how to present it. He knows energy and he knows we all need to also know energy. The course weaves together what we should know and adeptly teaches us the essentials. I say with tongue only slightly in cheek that a constitutional amendment should be passed requiring every legislator and executive officer in the country to take this course (all of it). And it is possible that all citizens should be included in that requirement. The real feat here is to tie together energy sources, energy use and energy production with all of the technical data about how it is produced, used, wasted, and how much it all costs as well as what are the issues for the present and future of al energy production and use. If you have not yet taken this course, just do it. You will be the wiser for it. After all, if you exist, you are involved in the subject of this course.
Date published: 2016-11-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wikipedia lite No original material presented. Sources include advocacy groups such as the world wildlife fund. Very biased toward big government solutions. You could easily get this information by googling for an hour.
Date published: 2016-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No surprises Presentation is as I come to expect. As always great course material, excellent presenter, very well done.
Date published: 2016-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal! There are not enough superlatives in the English language to fully capture how I feel about this course. The content was exactly what I was looking for and was targeted at the perfect level of sophistication. What a pure joy it was for me to finally learn how an engine works, how an air conditioner works, how energy gets stored, and to truly understand the great energy debates and the pros and cons surrounding solar, wind, coal, natural gas, petroleum, geothermal, biofuels, and hydroelectric power. It is such a terrific feeling to walk away from a course feeling that the world has somehow changed - that it is much more comprehensible as a result. The professor was bold, as well. When he started explaining how nuclear energy works - really works - I felt myself thinking, "should he really be telling us this?". This felt like an "everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask" kind of experience. It was just so invigorating intellectually to finally really understand the concepts without having to have a degree in nuclear physics! Finally, Professor Wysession is the most gifted lecturer I have ever encountered - and I study teacher effectiveness for a living! He was technical when he needed to be but always made sure the audience was right there with him. Everything was perfectly understandable and easy to follow with him as a guide. Kudos to the professor and the staff at the great courses for their excellent assembly of visuals to go along with the lectures as well - this is a course that you should take with the video and not just the audio, I think. He is such a compelling instructor that I plan to take his other course on the natural wonders just because he is that good. I would also like to mention that although this topic is a hot one politically, this course is all about the science, and he does a brilliant job fairly representing the pros and cons to each source of energy. Whereas I entered this course with some preconceived biases in favor of one or two energy sources and against some of the others, I left the course with a deeper appreciation of the fact that there is no single magic bullet source of energy and it is foolish to think of it that way. They each have different strengths and weaknesses, but there are clever ways to capitalize on them all for a greater purpose, if only there were the political will to so. But alas. And if, per chance, you read this Professor Wysession, I want you to know that as a result of your suggestions, I did immediately change all of the lights in my house to LEDs. Thank you very much for a thoroughly enjoyable course. I wish you all the best!
Date published: 2016-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Energized Me! I have only watched a few of the lectures so far, and am very impressed with the tons of information. I already knew some basics about electrical circuits, but this refreshed my memory and taught much more. Who would have thought of photosynthesis being included in the course? Very thorough! The main reason I chose this course was the description of "unbiased". That is nice. Dr. Wysession presents "just the facts please". Great Course.
Date published: 2016-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Valuable overview of the energy field The field of energy production is extremely complex especially with all of the new developments in renewable sources. This course's most valuable contribution is recapping all of the technologies being explored, assessing their pros and cons and the economic and political considerations involved. I highly recommend it for the insights provided. With the limited time available, the professor could only touch on some of the political and legal issues, which are extensive. For example, nuclear power generation was stalled for decades in the courts after Three Mile Island. Because of this investment in improving safety and waste disposal have greatly lagged. Opponents of nuclear power claimed victory, but at what cost? Today, the concerns with carbon pollution and global warming make claiming this as a victory questionable considering nuclear is virtually free of carbon pollution. Environmentalists also challenge power generation from hydroelectric, wind farms, geothermal, microwave relay of satellite power, etc., in the courts. The attendant costs and delays are more complex than can be covered in this course but need to be recognized as drivers in some cases to the viability of these technology. The vulnerability of a national energy grid also needs to be considered versus a regional, distributed network using multiple technologies. If nothing else, the viewers take-away should be that a well thought out, comprehensive energy plan is sorely needed that focuses on an integrated approach. A simplistic, "one-size fits all" approach, such as "solar for all" is naïve.
Date published: 2016-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential Course about Energy Americans use a lot of energy and we should all know about how it is derived and delivered. Energy policy is very important and this course is essential so that people understand the sources and characteristics of different energy sources. The professor has prepared a wonderful presentation about this subject and I have learned so much from it. His credentials are impressive and the material is comprehensive, presented in an easy to understand way. I have recommended this course to many of my colleagues. I enjoyed the video download version.
Date published: 2016-08-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview I wanted to get an overview of the energy industry, and this is exactly what I got. Will need to delve more into commercial aspects on my own, but that is what I expected. Another informative course from The Great Courses!
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent course with an Excellent Professor. This course provides the base of information we need to decide what kind of energy future we will want. All energy forms have there strengths and faults. As pointed out, there is no one size fits all solution. There is however, a great deal to be positive about. In this very enjoyable and science based course , you will get the facts and information you need to intelligently shape your opinions, your purchases and ultimately your vote. When there is so much noise out there on this subject , It is refreshing to have this educated insight on this important subject.
Date published: 2016-08-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from fun for anyone who likes learning At my age, some of what I learned five decades ago has faded but the level of knowledge has expanded so every course, especially this one goes well beyond what I learned. Nerds and Geeks never change, we love this stuff, and I will share it with the grandkids as well.
Date published: 2016-07-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The lectures contain errors in the portions covering oil and gas, particularly in the portions dealing with hydraulic fracturing. Energy is such a vast field that no one can be an expert in all of it, so it is understandable that the lecturer did not have expertise in all the topics on which he lectured. But he should have checked his facts with someone who knew more about oil and gas and hydraulic fracturing.
Date published: 2016-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Energy Very thorough and informative. The instructor was perfect!
Date published: 2016-07-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good course, but could use more depth & focus It is a good course, but I feel at times it got off focus. Could use more depth.
Date published: 2016-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explain This is an excellent introductory class. The professor has created a great framework for thinking about energy choices. It is one of those classes that should be required in the school system along with basic economics.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Contradiction between Doc’s two different courses This is my 2nd revision as TGC rejected my original note because it was not politically correct (in their opinion). I was hoping for specifics – but they just referred me to their “guidelines”. Okay – here we go: To me, this course was unique, very interesting, thorough, comprehensive and well-prepared…considering the enormous complexity & volatility of the subject. Unlike some professors that [boringly] READ their lectures from a teleprompter – it didn’t appear so. I like that. To me; delivery is just as important as the content…and I don’t relish a computer reading to me in this course. Well done professor. Keep up the good work! This is refreshing considering the technical nature of this course -- including his other terrific course on The World’s Greatest Geological Wonders. If you buy this course of energy – please consider that one also. Only a couple (2) issues I (and many others) differ with: (1) TERMINOLOGY & CONTRADICTION: As mentioned in other folks’ comments – the good professor states (more or less) “whatever your preconceived ideas are – put them aside”. No! We will not check our brain out – like college kids that must capitulate to pass the course. The belief that petroleum & natural gas are FOSSIL fuels…thus “we will run out”…thus “use less”…thus “save the world from [our fault] flooding” hoax. Coal certainly is [fossil] – but not oil & gas. I could copy-paste some reputable scientific web sites here but it probably will be edited out by TGC [politically incorrect statement removed]. In Doc’s Geological Wonders course, Chapter-36, he shows Saturn’s moon Titan to have very large hydrocarbon lakes – quote: “The largest is Kraken Mare – larger than all our great lakes combined – which contains hundreds of times the reserves of oil & natural gas on Earth”, unquote. Duhhh: You think there is “FOSSIL fuel on Titan”? Maybe “bacteria causing methane”? Baloney! If not fossil fuel on Titan then neither is it on Earth. THE FACTS: both NASA (which has discovered methane on many other celestial bodies) and most of the European scientific community (especially the growing Russian energy superpower) have regarded the TERMINOLOGY phrase “petroleum fossil fuel” equivalent to “flat earth”, “bloodletting”, “aether”, and “the craters on the moon formed by fighting angels” (roll eyeballs). As such, they don’t care to argue such nonsense. In short -- junk, obsolete science – and not surprising since this issue is so wrapped up & convoluted in money, politics, and extreme KOOK environmentalism…well-funded (indirectly) by those who don’t want us to drill in our own country. In chapter 22, it was mentioned how energy was so “convoluted with money and politics”. Agreed – we are most certainly being manipulated. Don’t misunderstand: if some environmental controls were not in place (as shown in China) – the industry would leave lots of dead corpses behind; justified ubiquitously by company management as “that’s….just….business”. [politically incorrect statement removed] The Valdiz & Deepwater Horizon incidents were proof that expenditures are spent RE-actively instead of PRO-actively. Remember the Pinto case? “it would cost LESS $$$ in lawsuits -- than to recall & fix the exploding gas tank [rear end collision]”… that burned hundreds of people alive. Yes – we need some controls. NO: natural gas & crude oil are not “fossil” but MINERALs that are perpetually generated by plate tectonics & other natural forces…as on Saturn’s moon Titan. Areas pumped dry are replenished years later – and not because of the “missed” oil pockets that eventually drained. (2) GLOBAL WARMING & FREEZING CYCLES: These cycles have been occurring for “bill-yuns & bill-yuns” of years as Carl would say. Few dispute this is happing. The issue -- is the CAUSE. The course points out that a majority of US Congress people have been converted to the NEW global warming “religion” -- a subject they know absolutely NOTHING about – except what they’ve been spoon-fed…with substantial palm grease from lobbyists. [politically incorrect statement removed] Yes, “religion” -- the historical definition cannot be denied: • positively no discussion allowed • “our way or hit the highway” • “we’ll burn you at the stake” • “house arrest [Galileo]” • “off with your head” • “we will do your thinking for you” - with a self-appointed infallible leader (Al Gore). There IS a difference between “persuasive acknowledgement” and “extreme foaming at the mouth fanaticism” – which is characteristic of this new religion where big $$$$ is involved. How about asking a group of 200 REAL scientists that have NOT had their palm greased with $$$$? Equal time maybe? Numerous reputable web sites out there that can easily shoot this “our-fault” hoax full of holes. I applaud phasing out coal power generation for the sole purpose of REDUCING POLLUTION. For sport, I’m an underwater videographer & have traveled the world extensively. In the west Pacific I’ve seen bulldozers deliberately push a DAILY mountain of trash and garbage into the sea. [politically incorrect statement removed] I was astounded and outraged! Any wonder why in the north pacific there are 2 swirling trash piles the size of Texas? [politically incorrect statement removed] MISDIRECTED ZEAL: Every beach of every island I visit (anywhere in the Pacific) is littered with trash. There is ZERO conservation there – keeping 100% of everything they catch, anytime of the year -- they even dynamite blasting of the reef for fish! [politically incorrect statement removed] We’re re-directing our efforts in the WRONG place & shooting ourselves in the foot – but then, there is no $$$ incentives here – nobody gets rich (or promoted) for properly disposing the garbage – a case & point in the corporate business world on a smaller scale & why corporations can’t exceed 35% efficiency. Doc’s terrific course of “Geological Wonders” pointed out how the great rivers in south Asia (which are held in high regard by the local populace) are thoroughly polluted. [politically incorrect statement removed] This makes no sense to me. Yes, there is some international cooperation needed. The United Nothing doesn’t seem to be working – however now with the new fabricated “OUR FAULT” global warming religion, there may be an excuse to work together. PERPETUAL MESS: I’ve lived long enough to observe that in politics, religion, business, military, etc – that those in charge will surround themselves with people telling them WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR (as per Machiavelli – The Prince). THEN they have a glorious CONSENSUS and suddenly [fill-in-the-blank] becomes “fact” -- as everyone sees the emperor’s new clothes. “The Final Solution” is a prime example (since today is May 5). “The New Taste of Coke” is another. Let’s see now…what humans in history have declared themselves “infallible” with disastrous results? Looks like the present is no different…and as the saying goes “what we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history”. [politically incorrect statement removed] The tabloids would like us to believe we need to bury our cars then ride bicycles; else we’re flooded next week due to ALL (100%) of Antarctica & Greenland melting (replay movie 2012). CO2: you know -- the caveman fires that are TOTALLY responsible for melting the last ice ages 15,000 years ago (those bad boys!). Maybe volcanoes then had catalytic converters? Fluctuations in the sun are not an issue, right? How far will this absurdity go? The reason we get a “second medical opinion” is because we question the first diagnosis…so we consult another doctor EQUALLY qualified to render a second opinion. This is doctor-versus-doctor, not doctor-versus-patient. Unfortunately, climate scientist-versus-scientist is not allowed in this hoax. Intimidation rules here. A political text I recently read goes like this: "research has shown that no matter how ABSURD something is -- if REPEATED often enough -- 1/3 of the people will believe it", unquote. So it's not surprising that their mantra is: “9-out-of-10 reputable scientists unanimously see the emperor’s new clothes regarding [fill-in-the-blank]” With the daily barrage of propaganda -- I constantly have to use my mental trash can. Others who have expressed their disdain in this section about the “OUR FAULT” hoax is evidence that we’re NOT swallowing it. [politically incorrect statement removed] But then, I’ve learned “not to throw out the baby with the bathwater”: Yes – this course was great & crammed full of interesting and useful information. Buy it.
Date published: 2016-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview of Science & Politics of Energy In this course, Professor Wysession provide an excellent overview of the creation, storage, usage, and politics of energy. Since energy is such a critical component of our lives, it is good to have a good understanding of the technologies involved and the associated political issues; domestic and global. Professor Wysession also provides some useful tips on how to conserve energy. This course explains how energy is created by both renewal and non-renewal sources. Professor Wysession describes the pros, cons, and efficiency of each energy creation technology. As Professor Wysession points out there is no magic solution to provide all of the energy. For example, solar power may be a good clean source of energy but solar power does not work at night. Consequently, either power generated during the daylight hours has to be stored for evening use or alternative energy sources have to be used in the evening hours. I agree with Professor Wysession that in order to get people to save energy, people need to understand how much money they are spending on energy. For example, the digital displays in late model automobiles show the current miles per gallon but it could be even more useful to display dollars per trip or unit of time based upon the current price of the gasoline or the price of gasoline at the last fill-up. I also agree with Professor Wysession that this is too much energy wasted on unnecessary business trips. For the last year and a half, my business trips have been replaced with 21st century telecommunication services such as web conferencing or video conferencing. Not only have I not wasted energy resources on these trips, I have also saved tens of thousands of dollars in business travel and saved two days of my time of each business trip that would have been wasted on transcontinental travel. Also as discussed by Professor Wysession, energy is a major influence on politics and government policies. For example, the conflicts in the Middle East are driven by oil. Energy use and energy conservation also is a factor on government decisions and regulations regarding clean energy, emission limitations, automobile fuel mileage, new power plant constructions, etc. People have various opinions regarding energy, its usage, and its generations. Some of the opinions may not be based a complete understanding of the issues, pros, and cons of different energy sources. Consequently, I highly recommend this course to obtain a fuller understanding of the topic of energy.
Date published: 2016-04-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Below Expectations I have enjoyed all of Professor Wysession’s Great Courses, including “Science of Energy Resources and Power Explained”. I also recommend this course, but I was disappointed with its superficial handling of the subject, especially with respect to issues of global warming and nuclear power. In lecture 10 on “Understanding Carbon Dioxide” after only 10 minutes of presentation Professor Wysession shifts to a format of answering a “top 10 list of questions”, introducing them with the comment: “Again, if you are someone who is skeptical about the impacts that humans are able to have on the global climate system I’ll ask you to put your preconceived notions aside for a moment and just listen to this with an open mind.” Here is the list of questions, which in my view were straw men used to show the weaknesses of the arguments (preconceptions) against man-made global warming. 1) Carbon dioxide is only 0.04% of the atmosphere. So how can it be harmful? 2) The amount of carbon dioxide that the ocean releases to the atmosphere each year is 10x larger than the amount that humans release. Is there something different about the carbon dioxide that humans are releasing? How can human activity be making any real difference to global warming? 3) But don’t volcanoes release more carbon dioxide than human activity? 4) How much of the increase in temperature is due to an increase in radiation from the sun. Can’t the sun be causing the global warming? 5) The most powerful greenhouse gas is water vapor, so how can CO2 be so important? 6) Global temperatures stopped rising after the year 2000. So how can there be global warming? 7) There have been periods in Earth’s past when there was much more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there is now. So, global warming is natural, right? 8) How can global warming be occurring, then? Sea level isn’t 75-100 feet higher. 9) Haven’t some climate scientist said that we’re going into the next Ice Age? So, which is it, global warming or cooling? How do you figure that out? 10) Well, then isn’t the current global warming a good thing? Isn’t it better than an Ice Age? Professor Wysession dogmatically states that we know how carbon dioxide works and infers that this explains everything. It doesn’t. I’d like to ask 7 questions of my own. Question 1: Is it true that computer models used to predict the effects of increases in CO2 multiply the global warming caused directly by increases in atmospheric CO2 four-fold due to “positive feedback” effects? If the answer is yes, then knowing how CO2 works is almost trivial compared with understanding the science behind the postulated “positive feedback” effects. While Professor Wysession gives some examples of positive feedbacks, he doesn’t explain how important these positive feedback effects are in the aggregate and how they could quadruple the magnitude of the man-made global warming caused by adding CO2 to the atmosphere. Question 2: What are all of the potentially important processes induced by global warming caused by CO2 increases that can influence subsequent global temperatures and what evidence supports that the cumulative effects of these processes result in a large NET positive feedback effect that further warms planet? Most of Professor Wysession’s arguments can be taken at face value, except an important one. NASA now believes that Antarctica has been massively accumulating ice for about 10,000 years because “At the end of the last Ice Age, the air became warmer and carried more moisture across the [Antarctica] continent, doubling the amount of snow dropped on the ice sheet.” ( In contrast, Professor Wysession states: “Accurate information from NASA satellites has shown that the large continental glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland are losing ice at a rapidly increasing rate.” Thus, measuring the loss of ice from glaciers on the margins of Antarctica gave the hugely wrong impression that Antarctica as a whole was losing ice. This seems to demonstrate the risk of extrapolating a NET effect from a limited sample and incomplete understanding of the important processes involved. Question 3: The Earth’s climate repeatedly experienced warm periods followed by ice ages in the last million years when CO2 levels in the atmosphere stayed in a narrow range. If global warming causes NET positive feedback effects that cause further warming, what natural climate processes repeatedly overcame these effects to allow for multiple cycles of glacial advances and retreats? Question 4: Please explain the scientific processes that drove the large and numerous swings in Earth’s temperature associated with the advances and retreats of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets in the last million years. How do we know these processes are not currently causing any rise in global temperatures beyond what the increase in CO2 caused directly? Question 5: 15,000 years ago my property in Michigan was under an ice sheet 1-2 miles thick. That all melted away. What were the factors that caused this recent warming, and what is the status of those non-CO2 warming factors today? I am not a climate scientist but I can understand an argument. I suspect many more important questions could be asked. Professor Wysession’s course does not offer any real insight into the CO2 issue, which is critical because concerns about CO2 are driving the interest in many of the other lectures. A helpful discussion needs to address the determinants of climate, like the elliptical nature of Earth’s orbit, the time of year when the Earth is closest to the sun, and precession of the Earth’s axis of rotation, and even possibly variations in the Sun’s output beyond the 11 year sunspot cycle discussed in the lecture. Question 6: What would be the effect on Earth average temperature of a 0.1% increase or decrease in energy output over a 100 year period? What range of variation in the sun's output is possible? “Science of Energy Resources and Power Explained” provides much useful information, but I don’t believe that Professor Wysession does a good job of setting appropriate confidence levels for his conclusions and did not accomplish his stated goal to present “a balanced view of humanity’s energy resource options moving into the future.” Dr. Wysession recognizes that there are “challenges of spent radioactive fuel” that “must be stored for hundreds of thousands of years”. Question 7. How much CO2 would be added to the atmosphere for each nuclear plant we close down? I suspect the amount of global warming would be negligible compared to the likely problems faced by our decedents in dealing with radioactive waste for hundreds of thousands of years. Overall I would recommend the course (I’m glad I have it), but it could have been much better.
Date published: 2016-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid and comprehensive survey This is the second course I have heard given by Professor Wysession – the other being ”The World’s greatest Geological Wonders…”. The first course was in a format of a guided tour, whereas the current one’s format is much more that of a conventional, sober, academic course. In both courses I found Wysession to be enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and interesting. The courses were also quite entertaining, but not to the extent that entertainment felt like it was a target in and of itself – which is good I think. This is an academic course after all… I was interested to hear the course in order to understand the many interdisciplinary aspects of Energy as the most important commodity in the modern world – not necessarily as science course. Indeed, the first five lectures are dedicated to giving a primarily scientific description of what energy is, and the many forms it can take on such as potential gravitational energy, electrical, kinetic, radiative and so forth. My training is in physics, and I did not find much new in these discussions nor do I think that most of technical background will be greatly enriched by these first few lectures. From lecture six, however, the lectures start to change focus and to discuss Energy primarily as a crucial human resource. The backbone of the course is a survey of the different energy production methods that have been used, are currently in use, and the ones which can serve our energy needs in the next centuries and millennia. Many important and far ranging aspects are covered, such as a survey of energy production method efficiency, environmental affects, energy economics, energy politics and energy science. There are many back of the envelope calculations provided during the course that were invaluable for providing an understanding of the scales of different energy production methods, such as the amount of energy that can be produced, the indirect health costs, and the economic cost and values. Another nice aspect of the course is that it follows energy consumption peculiarities of different customer segments such as industrial, commercial, and consumer – each is analyzed separately where appropriate. Wysession’s background is Geology, but the course did not feel stilted towards geology and the other, more social aspects, received central focus and coverage in the course. Overall the course provided a very good, quite comprehensive and multi-dimensional overview of energy resources and power. It was fascinating, and it is a topic that is important to understand since it drives so much in our modern world.
Date published: 2016-03-13
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