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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Steven W. Collins
BST 445
Bothell Campus

Political Economy of Energy

Covers the theoretical and practical issues in developing public policy to meet demands for efficient, secure, and environmentally sustainable energy. Student evaluate energy technologies in terms of scientific merit, economics, environmental impacts, and political contexts, and propose technologically sound and politically feasible solutions. Recommended: junior standing.

Class description

This course explores the back story of politics, economics, and technology shaping the energy debate in the U.S. How has the energy policy framework evolved since the oil shocks of the 1970s, and why? How does energy policy interact with environmental, security, science, economic, and foreign policy? What should be the objectives of energy policy? And how should those objectives be achieved? Shedding light on these questions requires an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on economics, politics, engineering, science, and other fields.

The course begins with an overview of energy concepts and measurement. The economics, politics, and technology of oil, natural gas, and coal are considered. It continues with the history of energy politics and policy over the past four decades with a view to understanding the policy process and explaining outcomes, most notably the difficulty in passing a comprehensive national energy policy. Sections may be devoted to the government's role in promoting new energy technologies, the challenges of securing the energy supply, and the role of states, especially California. The course concludes with the challenges and prospects of low-carbon energy--nuclear power, carbon capture and sequestration, biomass, wind and solar--and the political and economic forces shaping their development.

Student learning goals

Ability to evaluate energy technologies on the basis of their scientific, economic, and technological merits, as well as on their potential to contribute to broad societal goals such as mitigating global warming, alleviating poverty, improving energy security, and promoting sustainable development.

Greater awareness and understanding of the institutional and political context in which energy policy decisions are made.

Ability to analyze a policy issue, conduct research on it, and recommend a course of action through written presentation of a policy brief.

Greater awareness and understanding of the sources, flows, and storage of energy in nature; how they are measured; and the ways they are harnessed to serve the needs of human societies.

General method of instruction

Lecture-discussion format, supplemented with video documentary.

Recommended preparation

While no specific courses are required as prerequisites, students should have at least junior-level standing. It is recommended that students have some background in American government, contemporary American history, political economy, or political institutions. Introductory science and engineering courses may be helpful but are not required. MAPS and other graduate students may take the course by completing a substantive research project or policy analysis, together with an oral presentation.

Class assignments and grading

Students should expect a mix of short writing assignments and one longer policy analysis that will include a written report and oral presentation. Keeping up with the reading and intelligently discussing and debating it in class will be an important component of the grade. In-class quizzes spaced several weeks apart may be used to assess students' mastery of the course content.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Start Page for BST 445 Winter Quarter
Last Update by Steven W. Collins
Date: 11/14/2011