College launches new energy engineering major

Simulation of the impact of light rays on a new energy harvesting material. COURTESY T. I. ZOHDISimulation of the impact of light rays on a new energy harvesting material. (Photo by T.I. Zohdi.)The College of Engineering has launched a new major—driven largely by undergraduate interest—that focuses in a comprehensive way on the generation, transmission and storage of energy, with additional courses on energy policy.

Beginning in fall 2012, the new Energy Engineering major will admit up to eight new students each year. The major is interdisciplinary, extracting from the best energy-related courses already offered by the College. The major will be offered through the Engineering Science Program.

“The objective of this major is to produce students who are well-rounded energy experts,” says Tarek Zohdi, mechanical engineering professor and chair of the Engineering Science Program. “To some extent, all engineering programs address aspects of energy-related issues. However, no single program pulls all these aspects together in a comprehensive way. This new major closes that gap.”

Zohdi notes that interest in energy-related subjects is high among both graduate and undergraduate students, who can already approach the subject from a number of angles. For example, programs in electrical, mechanical and nuclear engineering offer a rich array of coursework on energy generation, storage and transmission. The new major will offer a single, coherent major in all aspects of energy, drawing primarily from course offerings in Engineering.

Tarek Zohdi, chair of the Engineering Science Program, explains the new energy engineering major now available at the College, spurred largely by undergraduate interest in the field. PEG SKORPINSKI PHOTOTarek Zohdi, chair of the Engineering Science Program, explains the new energy engineering major now available at the College, spurred largely by undergraduate interest in the field. (Photo by Peg Skorpinski.)“For engineers to have a full grasp of the energy landscape, including the viability of renewables and alternative energy and the balance between conservation and capital costs, they must have detailed knowledge of all of the possibilities available. This degree is designed to deliver that knowledge,” adds Zohdi.

Equipped with this big-picture understanding, as well as related policy implications, Berkeley students will be also prepared to lead in the growing fields of corporate and institutional energy management.

“Energy is a concern for most large companies that have to keep their systems up all the time,” Zohdi says. “For many large multinational corporations, their energy expenditures, such as the cost of keeping lights on, running computers and machinery, outstrip their personnel payroll.”

The new major will be the fourth option within Engineering Science, which currently includes Engineering Mathematics and Statistics, Engineering Physics and Environmental Engineering Science.

In addition to a comprehensive introduction to energy generation, transmission, storage and policy, course options are available in ethics, public policy and economics. A great strength of the major is its flexibility. Because the major emphasizes science and mathematics, students are well prepared to pursue graduate studies in physics or engineering, or to go directly to industry.

“In the research and development of energy generation, storage, transmission and consumption, there is a demand for engineering whose core competency is all aspects of energy,” says Zohdi. “This major provides the foundation and exposure to energy systems, with the goal to produce undergraduates who are energy experts.”