World Energy in Engineering Design

Michele Putko, a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at UMass Lowell presented a World Energy research paper at the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) conference in New Orleans in June, 2016. Michele co-wrote the peer-reviewed paper with Juliette Rooney-Varga, Director of the Climate Change Initiative and Associate Professor of Environmental Biology, also from UMass Lowell.

“World Energy* in Engineering Design” covers a set of activities that Professor Putko uses in a senior-level engineering course, “Thermo-fluid Systems Design” Over 120 students participated in the role-playing exercise that uses the En-ROADS computer simulator, which provides immediate feedback on the energy and climate outcomes expected from decisions students make about new energy technologies, policies, economic growth, land use, and other factors that affect our climate.

Professor Putko seeks to enliven mechanical engineering classes with learning activities that bring to life economic, social, political and ethical aspects of engineering design.  World Energy Class PrepWorld Energy Class PrepShe uses the backdrop of the global energy system, the difficult decision making process that countries around the world face, and the consequences of those decisions.  To see a class in action, check out the “World Energy Summit” video.

The aim of these exercises is clear: when engineering students use their design skills, long after they leave UMass Lowell, hopefully they will do so in a thoughtful way, with a desire to better understand the complexity of the world in which they live and recognition of the roles that engineering designs play throughout society.

Students first learn basic climate and energy system background before beginning the exercises: how anthropogenic greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, the physical science basis of the greenhouse effect, expected consequences of climate change, and the internationally accepted goal to limit global warming to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels.

Comparing StatsComparing Stats

During the World Energy simulation, each student is pre-assigned into one of six groups: Population and Consumption, Energy Efficiency, Carbon Pricing, Energy Supply, Land and Agriculture and Climate Hawks.  Taking a StandTaking a StandEach group must come to a consensus as to how they will respond in their area of influence in the coming decades. Students negotiate internally and with other groups to find ways to meet the +2 °C international goal.

The role-playing activities animate energy system complexities and help students to consider  the social, economic, political and ethical aspects of their power plant design project.  In any field the students may enter, they must be aware of  the bigger picture and think critically. Participation in activities such as “World Energy in Engineering Design” empowers students to seek understanding of the full implications of engineering contributions they may be called upon to make as they leave the classroom and embark upon their careers.

*World Energy was co-developed by the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative and Climate Interactive. More information can be found at:

Courses taught by Professor Putko that cover sustainability topics include Mech.2420, Thermodynamics and Mech.4420 Thermo-fluid System Design