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.
The Open University is a Learning Affiliate Member of the Energy Institute.
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.
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.
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 (11 'Big Sur' 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.