Technological inventions have made our modern lifestyles possible.
Powering such technology requires use of large quantities of energy at an affordable price.
Using energy at such quantities can lead to consequences for the environment.
Dr. Doug Carroll, program director of the cooperative engineering program, examines energy and the environment in the textbook he recently published through the Society of Automotive Engineers.
In the textbook, Carroll explores key technological developments across industries, spanning from automotive inventions to tools of the medical field.
“Harnessing energy made it possible to produce large quantities of steel at a low cost. This led to the developments of the steam engine, the railroad and the cars we use today,” Carroll said.
“Modern medicine also stems from using energy to create computers and other technology.”
Reaching a future of renewables
Most of the world’s energy currently comes from fossil fuels.
Such extensive use of fossil fuel energy can result in negative environmental consequences. This includes global warming and air pollution.
One proposed solution: power everything using renewable energy like wind and solar. But is this transition workable?
Only with time and changes to our energy system, Carroll shares.
“To end use of fossil fuels, we would need to produce more wind turbines, solar panels and nuclear plants as sources of renewable energy,” Carroll said. “With current production rates, it will likely take 100 years to build enough of such equipment.”
The role of electricity
Transitioning to renewable energy requires finding ways to generate electricity at low costs from renewable sources.
Electricity has the potential to power cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft. Electric heat could also replace use of natural gas in commercial buildings and residences.
At this point, these changes would be expensive.
“Our best hope for reducing the cost of electrical power is solar energy,” Carroll said. “We project that the cost of solar panels will decrease over time. This means producing electricity should also become more affordable in the future.”
Carroll developed a class to teach basic energy-related concepts to senior and graduate-level engineering students. He wrote the textbook as correlating material.
“Energy is an essential part of powering the inventions of our modern lifestyle,” he said. “This makes understanding its role crucial to starting a career in engineering.”
In exploring energy’s past impact, Carroll reveals how it will direct future developments.
“We may not know what inventions will come next,” he said, “but we do know technology will only continue to move forward as long as we have affordable energy to power it.”