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Renewable energy

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What does a sustainable energy system look like? How might renewable energy provide a much greater proportion of our energy needs in the coming decades? Which technologies and designs for the various renewable energy sources will we rely on to help us decarbonise our energy systems and maintain a secure supply of affordable electricity and heat? In this module you’ll explore these questions by systematically reviewing the eight main renewable energy technologies. With the help of study guides, you will develop your ability to apply this knowledge practically – especially for solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and wind.

What you will study

This module explores each of the principal renewable energy sources in turn. Each technology is examined in terms of the relevant physical principles; the main technologies involved; their costs and environmental impact; the size of the potential renewable resource; and their future prospects.

Renewable energy is the core teaching text for this module, along with a specially designed set of online activities to help you apply the knowledge to practical examples in the field.

You will work through a series of online study guides that use material from the book, together with additional online resources, exercises and activities to cover the following topics:

  • An introduction to renewable energy in the context of our primary energy needs – where you’ll gain an overview of the current status of renewable energy in the context of the world’s present primary energy situation.
  • Energy in buildings – how energy is used in domestic buildings and how its use can be reduced with insulation and more efficient heating systems.
  • Solar thermal energy – provides a detailed overview of the physics of solar heat and how this may be captured in a variety of different ways, as well as the complex topic of passive solar heating.
  • Solar photovoltaics – a structured introduction to this critical technology starting with the physics of crystalline silicon through to issues of integration and future prospects.
  • Bioenergy – various bioenergy products and processes are illustrated with a range of practical examples examining the factors likely to affect uptake of bioenergy systems.
  • Hydroelectricity – a critical look a small- and large-scale hydro in terms of their respective benefits and penalties. 
  • Tidal power – including barrages, lagoons and the rapidly emerging and potentially significant tidal current technologies.
  • Wind energy – a detailed overview of a wide range of aspects of one of the fastest growing energy technologies globally that is set to become a major generator of electricity throughout the world.
  • Wave energy – basic principles and detailed technology case studies and a review of the most promising future designs for this potentially significant global source of renewable energy.
  • Deep geothermal energy – why it is treated as renewable even though it is being mined, its usage over the last century and its exciting future.
  • Integrating renewable energy and renewable energy futures – how renewable energy sources can contribute to world energy needs, particularly for electricity generation, and scenarios for future renewable energy growth.

You will also have access to an electronic version of the companion volume Energy Systems and Sustainability – Power for a Sustainable Future and a range of other study materials from our website.

If you are considering progressing to The engineering project (T452), this is one of the OU level 3 modules on which you could base your project topic. Normally, you should have completed one of these OU level 3 modules (or be currently studying one) before registering for the project module.

You will learn

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

  • basic principles underlying the design and use of renewable energy supply systems and their implications for energy sustainability
  • main factors that determine the economic, social and environmental viability of the principal renewable energy systems.

You will also be able to:

  • use appropriate scientific and mathematical techniques relevant to the assessment of renewable energy technologies in terms of their technical potential to contribute to energy supply
  • critically assess the contribution that renewable energy technologies can make to the overall sustainability of energy systems at different scales
  • undertake basic economic analyses of proposed or existing renewable energy projects using spreadsheet-based models of energy systems.

Professional recognition

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

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject. 

Studying the OU level 2 module Energy and sustainability (T213) will give you the necessary background and skills 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 core module textbook Peake, S. (2018) Renewable energy - power for a sustainable future (4th Edition). You will have access to an electronic version of the companion volume Energy systems and sustainability – power for a sustainable future.

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

You'll 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.

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.

Assessment

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) and end-of-module assessment (EMA).

The EMA is a project that you will develop throughout your study of the module.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying T313 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

Renewable energy (T313) 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 2024.

Course work includes:

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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