Sustainable Energy Resources
Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Derek Straub knows that the daily lifestyle of a modern person is dependent upon the earth’s energy supplies. He also knows that our primary energy supply, fossil fuels, is limited and that the extraction and use of fossil fuels have significant environmental consequences. This dilemma was the impetus for his new course, Sustainable Energy Resources, which focuses on energy use, the effects of energy consumption on the environment and future possibilities for sustainable energy.
Straub says he created the course “to help students understand the issues involved with energy consumption and to get them thinking about potential opportunities for other energy resources.”
He keeps his students informed about the evolving nature of energy sustainability by beginning each class with an “energy briefing,” a discussion of a current event dealing with issues related to energy production and consumption.
A strong focus is the production and consumption of fossil fuels. Nonrenewable resources, such as coal, oil and natural gas, comprise 85 percent of the world’s energy production. According to some scientists, oil production may peak in the near future, resulting in significant increases in the price of oil and other fossil fuels. Straub agrees that fossil fuel resources will one day be depleted and that environmental concerns such as climate change will force us to find alternatives. “My belief is that there will definitely be a transition away from fossil fuels,” he says. “It’s important to start considering what technologies are to be developed to replace them.” Students also study current energy demands and the methods used to accommodate those demands. They examine the pros and cons of sustainable energy solutions such as solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, geothermal, hydro, wave and tidal, biomass and fuel cells.
Weekly three-hour lab sessions allow students to experience those energies first-hand. One lab examines possible alternative resources for the Susquehanna campus. Other labs examine energy production at a biodiesel plant, the Sunbury Generation power plant, the Bear Creek wind farm, the Susquehanna steam plant and the geothermal system in West Hall.
Coordinating perfectly with campuswide efforts to elevate Susquehanna’s energy efficiency, Sustainable Energy Resources gives students the opportunity to examine both global and personal energy use, and to consider how energy consumption and production must adjust and progress as we move further into the 21st century.
"The modern-day lifestyle is very energy-driven,” says Straub. “Someone somewhere must figure out how to efficiently create all this energy we consume.”
Contributing writers to The 'Grove section are Stephanie Beazley '10, Evan Dresser '02 and Victoria Kidd, editor.