Energy Policy

1: Energy in Transition


About this Lesson

Before we can think about where we want our energy future to take us and how public policy can help us get there, we need to understand how it got us to where we are today. This week, we'll be exploring the history of energy use, specifically focusing on how our ability to harness and utilize varying energy resources has enabled us to make advances in our societies throughout time. By examining historical trends in energy consumption and more importantly the transition from one major energy source to another (e.g. wood to coal and coal to oil and gas), we will be better equipped to understand what we might expect in the future. This is particularly important given that we are in the midst of a transition to low-carbon sources (not as rapidly as we need to, it should be noted) and policy has and will continue to play an important role in facilitating that transition. Having even a cursory sense of society's historical relationship with energy resource utilization will help to ground our discussions of the future of energy use and the role it will have in the development and evolution of our societal structures.

By the end of this lesson, you should understand:

  • the different types of energy resources humans have employed throughout history, and the consequences of each;
  • the link between access to energy and population growth;
  • the consequences of reliance on either hard or soft energy paths;
  • the concept of energy transitions and what the historical precedent of these transitions might mean for future energy resources.

What is due?

This lesson will take us one week to complete. Please refer to the corresponding module in Canvas for specific assignments, deliverables, and due dates.


If you have questions, please feel free to post them to the "Ask a Question about the Lesson" Forum. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help a classmate.