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.
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.
The Open University is a Learning Affiliate Member of the Energy Institute.
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) or the discontinued module Exploring science (S104).
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.
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.
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:
- Windows 7 or higher
- Mac OS X 10.7 or higher
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.