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Energy and sustainability

Are fossil fuels running out? Can nuclear power, carbon capture and storage or renewable energy sources provide solutions to the problem of global warming? How can we provide clean, safe, sustainable energy supplies for the UK, and the world, despite increasing population levels and affluence? In this module you will look at the basic principles underlying the design and efficient use of energy and energy supply systems. Using a range of study materials and online activities, you will learn to use the appropriate scientific and mathematical techniques applied to energy related issues.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 9 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Each one of us is inextricably linked to energy use, and each of us probably has different perspectives on sustainability. Whatever your energy background and perspectives, this module explores the issues linked to energy and sustainability.

Energy Systems and Sustainability – Power for a Sustainable Future is the core teaching text for this module. You are guided through this book by weekly, online study guides, which include online mathematical and other activities to test your energy related skills and understanding. There are also informative videos which explain all you need to know about energy.

The online study guides and book cover the following topics:

  • Primary energy – where you’ll explore the presentation and interpretation of data and gain an overview of the world’s primary energy situation, its recent history and its problems.
  • What do we use energy for? A tour of all the different ways of using energy and how these have changed over the centuries.
  • Different forms of energy – you’ll investigate some basic ideas around this subject.
  • Coal – a concise ‘biography’ of this critical fuel in the past and the future.
  • Heat to motive power – a detailed look at this most important energy conversion process that underlies much of the energy services we enjoy from transport to electricity
  • Oil and gas – a look at these close cousins from their formation to the prospect of their ultimate depletion
  • Oil and gas engines – a review of three types of internal combustion engine designs that have influenced the twentieth century.
  • Transport and sustainability – an overview of this fast changing topic from both a technological and behavioural perspective.
  • Electricity – exploring this most critical ‘secondary fuel’ – its history and future as part of a sustainable energy system.
  • Energy in buildings – an introduction to this topic focusing on improving insulation standards and heating efficiency in the housing stock.
  • Nuclear power – a review of the present situation, background science and the types of reactor designs currently in use.
  • The future of nuclear power – an exploration of various issues concerning its immediate and long-term future.
  • Renewable energy – an overview of key renewable energy technologies.
  • Costing energy – learn how to understand basic techniques including discounted cash flow.
  • Penalties – a detailed look at the various techniques for assessing the impacts of energy use – from local air pollution to climate change.
  • Remedies for a sustainable energy system – a critical look at how to make fossil fuel use more sustainable.

You will also have access to an electronic version of the companion volume Renewable Energy and a range of other study materials from our website.

You will learn

By the end of the module you will be able to understand and describe:

  • the forms of energy and the various definitions of ‘sustainable’ energy, and the relevance of sustainability to the design and implementation of energy systems
  • the principal sources of primary energy in use today, their development over the past century, and the general patterns of world, regional and national energy consumption
  • the basic principles underlying the design and use of energy supply systems, and the basic principles underlying the efficient use of energy
  • the pollutants produced through the combustion of fossil fuels, their environmental impacts and the amelioration of these.

You will also be able to demonstrate the following:

  • evaluate different energy technologies, in terms of their economics and environmental impacts
  • compare different techniques available for minimizing the level of pollutants generated by various energy sources and systems
  • compare the relative resource depletion impacts of different energy technologies.

Vocational relevance

You may be interested in a professional career in the energy industry; or may be concerned about the sustainability problems associated with our current energy issues. This module will help you to:

  • undertake cost related analyses of proposed or existing energy projects or technologies
  • present arguments relating to energy use and its impacts taking account of environmental, technological and social perspectives
  • use appropriate scientific and mathematical techniques applied to energy-related issues or contexts
  • analyse information about energy and its use from a variety of sources, using ICT tools
  • communicate scientific and technical information, and arguments relating to energy, clearly in a variety of ways.

Professional recognition

The Open University is a Learning Affiliate Member of the Energy Institute.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. There may be a mix of face-to-face and online tutorials. How tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module in your area.  

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have a good scientific and mathematical background, obtained either through level 1 study, or by doing equivalent work at another university.

We recommend that you start with two of the following key introductory OU level 1 modules: Exploring science (S104), Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) or Engineering the future (T174).

You should be familiar with mathematical concepts such as ratios, proportions, percentages, powers, scientific notation and conversion of units. To help you decide if you have the necessary mathematical skills, you can use our online self-assessment quiz. At the end of the quiz you will be given some advice on whether or not you are suitably prepared for this module. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £1350.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2019.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 30/07/2015.

What's included

Core textbook Everett, B., Boyle, G., Peake, S. and Ramage, J. (2012) Energy Systems and Sustainability, Power for a Sustainable Future (2nd edn). All other study materials including study guides, assignments, audio podcast and videos will be available via the module website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.