Education - a Solution to Energy Issue

Yao Li
November 19, 2011

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2011

Nowadays, more and more attention is paid to the energy issue since our need for energy is increasing everyday while the traditional energy resources are decreasing. The world population has increased rapidly from 1.6 billion at the beginning of the twentieth century to nearly 7 billion. In 2004, the world used some 1.13 ×1020 calories per year (131 Petawatt-hors), equivalent to a continuous power consumption of about 15 teravatts (TW). The demand for energy is expected to grow to 21 TW in 2025, and reach 30 TW in 2050. [1] And at the same time, the environment problems resulting from energy issue need immediate and effective solutions. To solve these problems, a lot has been done to improve the transport efficiency, the electricity efficiency, and the building efficiency. Also, people are struggling to develop renewable and clean energy resources like wind energy, solar electricity and so on. [2,3] There is no doubt that all of the endeavors on research are necessary and indeed have relieved the energy issue to some extent; however, these are far from enough and I think more emphasis should be put on education to address this issue more efficiently.

As a Chinese student who has been in Stanford for more than one month, on one hand, I feel that American people pay much attention to energy issue: here are various lectures, courses and club activities about energy; on the other hand, I'm very surprised to find that wasting behaviors are quite common here. For example, at least in Stanford it is not uncommon to see the lights are left on when people live the house. Although this may be thought as an effective way to avoid some crime behaviors, it is a serious waste of the energy. And there must be some other ways to avoid the crime behaviors and will not consume so much electricity. Also, every time we return from the supermarket, we will bring back so many plastic bags, which is really harmful to our environment. In China, the government has taken some very useful action to restrict the use of plastic bags. For example, the supermarkets are not allowed to provide free plastic bags anymore and all the bags are charged now. This action is very useful and has dramatically decreased the use of plastic bags. Maybe, similar actions can also be taken in U.S.

As what I have said above, so much has been done to develop new energy resources and improve the efficiency of electricity and so on. Then, why don't we just try to consume less energy through our own behaviors? And to realize this, education is what we should turn to for help.

K-12 Education

There is no doubt that the kids are the future of the world and their education is very crucial to the country's development. I think to alleviate the energy issue through K-12 education should be divided two parts.

The first part is to help children figure out what they should do and what they should not do. Since these children may not be able to differentiate right from wrong, it is their parents', their teachers', and the public's responsibilities to help them develop correct attitudes towards energy issue. The children are supposed to know that they should turn off the lights when there are no people in the house, they are encouraged to take the public transport to go around if convenient and so on. More importantly, they should be educated that they all can make a difference to the energy problem as long as they consume less energy everyday through their daily behaviors.

The second part is to help the children develop their interests in science and technology. On one hand, K-12 is a period during which children will gradually develop their interests; on the other hand, there is no doubt that science and technology is quite critical to the energy issue, no matter in improving electricity efficiency or in developing renewable energy recourses. Therefore, people are supposed to do everything they can to encourage children's interests in these fields.

College Education

College is a crucial stage to students because during this time, they will meet excellent people from various backgrounds, be exposed to knowledge in different fields, and make the decisions about their future career. Also, these students are the future elite of the country, and it is them who will make a difference in the near future. Therefore, they should be encouraged to develop a comprehensive understanding of the energy issue and no matter what their majors are they all can combine their majors with the energy problem. I think Stanford University does very well in this area.

First, in Stanford there are some organizations helping students achieve a better knowledge of energy. For example, the Stanford Energy Club is an organization that strives to bring together Stanford students, scholars and local professionals of all levels, regardless of discipline, who are interested in energy issue. In this kind of organizations, you will meet people from different departments who are also interested in energy just like you, and you will know the current situation of the energy issue and what you can do to help alleviate this situation.

Second, some courses are offered to help students develop a big picture of energy. In these courses, students' majors do not matter, as long as they have interest in energy.

Finally, from time to time, you can attend various lectures about energy issue given by professors from different departments. Some lectures are about new energy resources like wind and solar, some about energy storage, some about climate change, some about greenhouse gas captures, some about energy markets/stoves, and some about energy policy and financing. Through so many various lectures, students will be able to see the energy issues from different perspectives.

© Yao Li. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


There is no doubt that we should continue promote the development of science and technology to address the energy issue. But at the same time, education deserves more attention. In terms of K-12 education, on one hand, children should be helped to develop some common senses about energy problems; on the other hand, they are encouraged to develop their interests in science and technology which may help them contribute to the new energy technologies in future. And in terms of college education, students should be offered various opportunities to achieve a comprehensive understanding of energy issue and figure out what they can do to make a difference.


[1] G. O. Olah, A. Goepert and G. K. S. Prakash, Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy (Wiley-VCH, 2006).

[2] A. D. Sahin, "Progress and Recent Trends in Wind Energy," Prog. Energy Combustion Sci. 30, 501 (2004).

[3] B. A. Gregg, "Excitonic Solar Cells," J. Phys. Chem. B 107, 4688 (2003).