Sustainable Energy Engineering and Policy

Energy and energy policy are increasingly preoccupying governments around the world.

Volatile oil prices capture headlines, but underlying issues related to the security of energy supplies and the environmental consequences of energy production and consumption are propelling a reconsideration of the ways in which we produce and consume energy. Indeed, in coming decades a dramatic transformation of energy systems will be required if we are to meet societal needs while significantly reducing pressures on the global environment. This transformation requires scientific and technological advance to develop the carbon-neutral energy systems required to address the threat of human-induced climate change. It also demands significant innovation in the policy realm and implies broader patterns of societal innovation. The establishment of closer links between engineering and policy studies is central to the overall vision.

Canada is rich in energy resources, but the country also faces many challenges in the energy sphere. Since the 1980s, there have been changes in the policy landscape with Canada’s closer integration into the continental energy system, deregulation of many energy markets and increasing concerns over climate change. Energy is of critical importance to Canada’s economic future, yet the production and consumption of energy are associated with many environmental problems. Equity issues are raised by uneven regional energy endowments, energy linkages to development challenges, and policy impacts on different societal groups. Moreover, energy has important security and foreign policy dimensions.

Sustainable Energy links energy to the broader societal process of sustainable development — embracing economic, social and environmental dimensions. It points to the way different forms of energy can contribute to societal well-being, and to the need to transform patterns of energy production and consumption to avoid grave environmental impacts.

Sustainable energy is concerned with renewable energy — energy that draws on cyclical natural flows (such as solar, geothermal, hydro, wind and biomass). But it is also preoccupied with the way in which non-renewable resources can be used more effectively, by minimizing environmental impacts, and ensuring they make a positive contribution to sustainable development. As a field of research and teaching, sustainable energy draws on established knowledge from engineering and policy sciences, but it particularly brings into focus the major challenges confronting modern society as it attempts to meet energy needs in an economically efficient, socially responsible and environmentally friendly manner.