Students who use this textbook can identify and describe the major renewable energy technologies, explain the generation of electricity and electricity grid management, and describe how all of that relates to the current energy transition and the prospect for altering the connections between energy, the economy and the environment. In short, students who use this textbook will become energy transition generalists – prepared to enter a developing renewable energy workforce that includes a diversifying job market.


In their book “Understanding by Design,” Wiggins and McTighe suggest that educators should design courses by first thinking about what they want students to know at the end of a course, then work backward from that point down to each individual lecture. I have applied this same logic when writing Renewable Energy in the 21st Century (RE21) in hopes that it would be helpful for faculty when adopting the textbook for their courses.

The backwards design approach that I use in the RE21 textbook has four hierarchical levels. The broadest level is the course goal, which answers the question: “How will you be different after taking this course?” Beneath the course goal there are four learning goals, each corresponding to one of the four sections of the textbook. The examination copy of the textbook includes goals for each chapter, and even each chapter section. By designing in this fashion, the instructor can be assured that a lecture or activity designed to focus on one learning outcome will also help achieve a learning goal and, ultimately, the overall course goal. Regardless of whether you are more inclined to lecture or to use more of a discussion format, if you align your lecture/discussion with a particular learning outcome listed below, you will be working towards the ultimate course goal.


Section 1:  To explain the connections between the energy transition and the energy-economy-environment nexus in the context of historic and current energy transition.  

Section 2:  To summarize the basic energy information required to understand renewable energy. 

Section 3: a) To explain electricity; b) to summarize how electricity is generated, and c) to describe how electricity grids are operated and managed. 

Section 4: To explain how the most important renewable energy technologies operate, including: 1) solar photovoltaics, 2) concentrated solar thermal power generation, 3) passive house design, 4) wind energy, 5) hydropower, 6) bioenergy, and 7) geothermal.  


Since this textbook was born out of my needs in the classroom, I have included a few additional teacher materials for those who adopt the book. The first item is a blank syllabus, that includes both the assessments I use when teaching but also a basic weekly schedule that gives an instructor an idea of about how long I think it takes to teach each section of the book, considering that some topics are more easily learned than others. I also include a semester-long research project that I assign my students that allows them to take a deep-dive into one aspect of the energy transition.


I pair some of the textbook material with podcasts from the Energy Transition Show with Chris Nelder. I find that many episodes from this show expand the discussion of the material in the book in illuminating and innovative ways, and students are always excited to engage with material through new media - like podcasts.