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Energy and sustainability

Qualification dates
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Are fossil fuels running out? Can nuclear power, carbon capture or renewable energy solve global warming? How can we provide clean, safe, sustainable energy supplies despite increasing population levels and affluence? In this module, you’ll examine the principles underlying the design and efficient use of energy and energy supply systems and learn to use the appropriate scientific and mathematical techniques and apply them 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 minimising 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. (2021) Energy Systems and Sustainability, Power for a Sustainable Future (3rd edn).

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

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 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)