University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Energy Transition Lab

Grand Challenge Course: Pathways to Renewable Energy

November 19, 2015Megan ButlerETL Blog, UncategorizedComments Off on Grand Challenge Course: Pathways to Renewable Energy

Photo Credit: David Clarke (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pathways to Renewable Energy

This spring semester at the University of Minnesota Energy Transition Lab Executive Director Ellen Anderson and Engineering Professor Paul Imbertsen are partnering to co-teach a cross-disciplinary course focusing upon renewable energy transition as part of the University’s Grand Challenge Curriculum. The 3 credit course, entitled GCC 3011/5011 Pathways to Renewable Energy, will meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9:45 to 11:00 AM on the East Bank and is open to all University of Minnesota students.

GCC 3011/5011 will closely examine the Realpolitik of energy and the technical, legal, regulatory and policy underpinnings of renewable energy in the United States and Minnesota. Students participating in GCC 3011/5011 will gain an understanding of how political, economic and social structures in the United States and Minnesota bring competing and often contradictory forces to bear upon energy transition. This cross-disciplinary course fulfills honors experience as well as Technology and Society LE theme requirements, and is open to all students. For more information and to register visit

About The Grand Challenge Curriculum

The University’s Grand Challenge Curriculum (GCC)  consists of a series of cross-disciplinary courses focused upon addressing important global issues through a solution-driven, interdisciplinary approach to learning. GCC courses are taught by cross-disciplinary instructors who bring unique perspectives to the Grand Challenge being explored.

About GCC 3011/5011 Pathways to Renewable Energy

Climate change and the depletion of fossil fuel resources present a challenge beyond the realm of any single academic discipline. The transition to new sources of energy will require proponents to understand the physics of power generation, the economics of energy markets, the political and social structures that shape public attitudes and policy agendas, and the legal framework that structures regulatory options. Change will be difficult. Our political, economic, and social structures bring competing, often contradictory, forces to bear upon this transition. As much or more money and political capital is spent on maintaining the energy status quo as in transforming it. Even as markets shift toward investment in renewable energy sources, designing, siting, and financing renewable energy is a constant struggle. This interdisciplinary course will examine obstacles to energy transitions at different scales. It will explore the role of energy in society, the physics of energy, how energy systems were created and how they function, and how the markets, policies, and regulatory frameworks for energy systems in the U.S. developed. The course will closely examine the Realpolitik of energy and the technical, legal, regulatory, and policy underpinnings of renewable energy in the U.S. and Minnesota. Students will learn the drivers that can lead global systems to change despite powerful constraints and how local and institutional action enables broader reform. In 2016, students will put their learning into action by developing proposals for addressing a particular challenge: What would it take to get the University of Minnesota to invest significantly in solar energy? Student teams will analyze barriers and opportunities and develop realistic proposals for solar investment that will be vetted by stakeholders, reviewed by outside mentor-experts, and ultimately presented to University decision makers at the highest levels. Over 40 undergraduate and graduate students from 12 different majors and 3 different UMN campuses have signed up for this project and will be invited to enroll. Others are welcome.

Students registered for the GCC 5011 level will produce a white paper suitable for public dissemination. The topic of the white paper will be assigned or approved by the course instructors and is expected to move the conversation around implementation of renewable sources forward by addressing best practices, elimination of roadblocks, organizing and synthesizing technical or policy constraints, issues of community engagement, or other topics as deemed necessary to advance the goals of the course and its mission. The production and dissemination of these white papers will be one of the major outcomes of the course and will enable transference of this work to other universities, public and private institutions.

About the Professors

Paul Imbertson holds a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota and had extensive industrial experience specializing in power and energy before joining the faculty of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at the University of Minnesota. Paul is the faculty advisor for several university student groups including KHK, Innovative Engineers, Solar Vehicle Project, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the University Mad Scientists Club. Paul received Senator Amy Klobuchar’s Carbon Buster Award and was recognized by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents for contributions to Community-University Partnerships. He has been voted “Best professor” 10 times, and recently received the University-wide “Award for Global Engagement” for which he was granted the title “Distinguished Global professor”. He received the “Morse/Alumni Award for Teaching”, for which he was granted the title “Distinguished Teaching professor” and was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Ellen Anderson is executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab and an adjunct associate professor at the Law School. From 2012 to 2014, Anderson was senior advisor on Energy and Environment to Governor Mark Dayton and assisted the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB). From 2011-2012 she was Chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Anderson served in the Minnesota Senate from 1993-2011, representing several neighborhoods of St. Paul and the city of Falcon Heights. Her signature legislation includes the Renewable Energy Standard and many other energy laws. Anderson holds a B.A. from Carleton College and J.D. cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School. She has been an adjunct faculty member at two universities, and has received dozens of awards for her leadership.

Register Today

Cover Photo Credit: Windwärts Energie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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