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Energy and sustainability

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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.

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.

Professional recognition

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

Entry requirements

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: Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116), Engineering: origins, methods, context (T192) (or its predecessor T174), Questions in science (S111) or Science: concepts and practice (S112). A good pass in one of these modules would be beneficial to your study of T213.

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.

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access
  • access to student and tutor group forums.

You’ll also be provided with the printed module textbook, Everett, B., Peake, S. and Warren, J. (2020) Energy Systems and Sustainability, Power for a Sustainable Future (3rd edn). Due to unforeseen circumstances, it’s unlikely the printed copy will reach you for the start of your module. We expect it to be delivered by January 2021. In the meantime, an electronic version is available on the module website.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

We aim to provide face-to-face tutorials in a range of locations students can travel to, though we cannot guarantee availability close to where you live. Online alternatives may also be provided, and recordings of these will typically be made available to students.

Student numbers on the module, and where tutors are based, will affect the locations of where tutorials are held, and what online alternatives are provided. We cannot guarantee that face-to-face tutorials will be hosted in specific locations, or locations that have been used previously. While you're not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

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).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying T213 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Energy and sustainability (T213) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2020.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.

Course work includes:

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

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