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Can Renewable Resources Fill California's Energy Needs?

USC Viterbi School of Engineering Dean to deliver four-part lecture series to Viterbi undergraduates.

February 08, 2010 —

Sustainability. The word means many things to many people, and its use is often thrown about with emotion and sentiment. In his delightful account Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air, however, author Daniel J.C. McKay states it is time for “facts, not adjectives”.

With that guide very much in mind, USC Viterbi School of Engineering Dean Yannis Yortsos has launched a four-part lecture series this spring focused on sustainable energy. The dean will lecture to an audience of Viterbi undergraduates drawn from all engineering disciplines.  The series is being given outside of the formal curriculum process.

Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos.
“Challenges to sustainability are the result of three trends,” says Yortsos. ”Population growth, increasing economic output and a “flatness” of the world, whereby there is an upward tendency for all the world to reach the standard of living of the most advanced countries.”

Solving the world’s energy challenges is a key to sustainability. Current levels of resource depletion (and waste generation), in the absence of new technological breakthroughs, are most certainly unsustainable. That’s the conclusion of what Yortsos calls the “simple calculus of sustainability.”

What is exciting, however, is that technological innovation is at the center and the brightest promise for solving the sustainability challenge. Advances in materials, energy production, process efficiencies and the full empowerment of information technology will go a long way toward achieving a sustainable future.

Of course, Yortsos notes, prediction is always difficult: “Especially if it’s about the future,” in the oft-repeated maxim of physicist Niels Bohr.

Yortsos hopes that a concrete result of his lecture series, in addition to engaging Viterbi students in this important field, will be a student project to determine whether the State of California can meet today’s energy requirements solely with renewable resources.