Energy 101: A Community-Wide Seminar Series Debuts This Fall

The goal is to increase energy literacy at Dartmouth and in the wider community.

“A lot of people are passionate about certain energy systems,” says Elizabeth Wilson, director of the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society and a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies. “But we don’t all share a broad and deep base of knowledge about how energy is used around the world, how we use it today, and how we used it in the past.”

That’s why the institute is partnering with the Revers Center for Energy at the Tuck School of Business, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Dartmouth Office of Sustainability to offer an eight-week seminar series this fall called “Energy 101.” It starts Sept. 18. Fifty people have registered, and enrollment for this term is closed. 

“It’s important that we include everyone—students, post-docs, faculty, staff, and members of our broader community,” says Wilson. “Hanover, Lebanon, and a lot of other Upper Valley towns have energy aspirations as they set renewable energy targets, and Dartmouth is making production and consumption more sustainable on campus. As a panel discussion facilitator told me at one of our programs last year, ‘You can’t plan the future if the future isn’t in the room.’”

Wilson will start the series with a lecture and a discussion about how energy is used globally and historically. “In the 1930s,” she notes, “only 10 percent of America’s rural areas had electric power. I want to show how we got to where we are today.” 

Amanda Graham, the institute’s new academic director, hopes that Energy 101 will spotlight the need to replace “legacy” energy systems—oil, coal, and natural gas—with sources friendlier to the planet. “Our students will have to navigate a world where 85-90 percent of the energy we currently use is fossil fuel-based,” she says, “and that’s not going to be sustainable over the next 30, 50, 100 years.” 

Moving to renewable energy requires more knowledge about systems than consumers typically have, says Graham, in part because energy tends to be hidden in everyday life. “To turn on a light, we flick a switch, but we don’t think about the embodied energy behind that switch. Because we assume it away, we don’t always recognize what we consume when we drive down the highway, or leave a refrigerator door open.”

“It’s that old saying, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. And certainly, if you are going to graduate with a Dartmouth degree and perhaps take a leadership position somewhere in the world, you may have the opportunity to make really important decisions—decisions that depend on energy proficiency as you go through your civic and professional life.”

Graham and Dartmouth’s director of sustainability, Rosalie Kerr ’98, will lead an Energy 101 session on “bootstrapping energy fundamentals.” Graham says consumers don’t need to master all the energy technology that professionals use. “But they should know, for example, the difference between a kilowatt and a megawatt, and what they represent,” she says.

In addition to Wilson, Graham, and Kerr, Energy 101 leaders include April Salas, executive director of the Revers Center; Geoffrey Parker, professor of engineering and director of the master of engineering management program at Thayer; and Jenna Musco ’11,  assistant director of the Office of Sustainability. Also, institute advisory board members will hold a panel discussion. 

The topics are: 

  • Sept. 18: Big Picture Overview - What are energy systems? Why and how do we use energy?
  •  Sept. 25: Legacy Energy Systems, Energy Resources, Regional Differences
  • Oct. 2: Bootstrapping Energy Fundamentals: Units, Conversions, Technologies
  • Oct. 9: How Electricity Systems Work: Policies, Organizations, Decision-making
  • Oct. 16: Energy Economics: Energy Demand, Markets and Paying for Energy
  • Oct. 23: Energy in Frontier Economies: System Design
  • Oct. 30: Panel of Industry Experts: Creating Tomorrow’s Energy Systems
  • Nov. 6: Big Picture: What’s Next?
  • Nov. 13: End of Series Celebration 

In addition to the seminar series, the institute has announced a request for proposals for “research and education projects on the energy challenges faced by society.” Dartmouth faculty and staff can request up to $50,000; post-docs can request up to $25,000, and student grants will be capped at $10,000. Deadline for pre-proposals is Oct. 5.

Check the Irving Institute website for information about future events.  

Charlotte Albright can be reached at