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Unit information: Sustainable Energy Technologies, Economics and Impacts in 2020/21

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Unit name Sustainable Energy Technologies, Economics and Impacts
Unit code MENGM0045
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Joe Quarini
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Mechanical Engineering
Faculty Faculty of Engineering


Energy resources, energy use, power generation and distribution are vital infrastructure elements of any modern society. Traditional energy resources (coal, oil and gas deposits) had enormous impacts on the pace of industrialisation and still have significant effects on geopolitical stability of the world. ‘New’ energy resources (solar, wind, hydro and biomass) are rapidly shifting the way societies obtain power and are beginning to have significant beneficial effects on the environment. The detrimental effects of using hydrocarbon fuels to power our societies is generally accepted as real. These include poor air quality and unpredictable climate change effects (increased temperatures, disruption in weather patterns leading to desertification, flooding, disappearing low lying land masses). The need to move away from hydrocarbons to sustainable energy sources has now been almost universally accepted; at international levels with agreements such as the Paris agreement on climate change, at national levels, with countries putting into law dates by which they will become carbon neutral and at personal levels, with individuals installing solar PV, replacing conventional with electric cars. This unit will introduce the energy landscape, as it is and what it is moving towards. The unit will also provide an insight to how energy affects geopolitics, local politics, has commercial impact on lifestyles and quality of life and the environment. The aim of the unit is to provide an overview of energy, the need to move to sustainable energy use and to prepare the student for the more in-depth technical units which follow.

The unit will be structured into seven topics as follows:

1. The energy landscape

2. The detrimental effects of current energy use

3. Economic, commercial and political pressures on current energy delivery models

4. Methods of reducing the impact of energy consumption

5. Sustainable energy, magnitude, availability and geographical location

6. Renewable energy harvesting and power generation

7. Costs of a sustainable energy future

Intended learning outcomes

On successful engagement with the unit the participants should be able to:

  1. Describe the existing energy provision sector and the fuels which currently dominate the energy landscape. (item 1 above)
  2. Explain the detrimental effects current energy consumption are having on people, society and the planet, and how these are feeding through to economic and political pressures throughout society. (item 2 and 3 above)
  3. Select potential methods and technologies which would reduce the current detrimental impacts. (item 4 above)
  4. Compute the amount of sustainable energy potentially available on the Earth and estimate the proportion of this which can be harvested and used to replace current fossil fuel consumption. (item 5)
  5. Undertake performance and efficiency calculations for the various technologies underpinning the renewable power generation methods. (item 6)
  6. Compare different power provision methods on a dispassionate basis by undertaking quantifiable cost calculation and ranking them on a cost basis. (item 7)

Together with other units in the teaching block this unit will contribute to the ability of participants to:

  1. Come to rational, logical conclusions about the relative costs of moving to a sustainable energy world.
  2. Explain why it may be difficult to estimate costs for not doing so i.e. lost opportunity and enhanced detrimental impacts.

AHEP Learning Objectives: SM1m, SM2m, SM3m, SM4m, EA1m, EA2m, EA6m, D1, D6, EL1m, EL2, EL4, EL5m, EL7m, P1, P2, P9m, P10m, G1

Teaching details

The unit will be delivered through a combination of classroom lectures taught by academic staff and invited guest speakers (subject experts). Learning materials will be made available to students in advance via Blackboard.

Assessment Details

  • In December/January there will be in-class, must pass, formative assessments to test the knowledge and comprehension of the principles as well as the commercial, environmental and social contexts, underpinning sustainable energy provision in the world (ILO1- IL04)
  • In May/June there will be a 2 hour examination to test comprehension of the principles, processes and methodologies used in renewable energy harvesting techniques. The examination questions will enable the student to demonstrate innovation and critical appreciation of the power generation sector in a modern society. The examination will also test the ability to undertake performance calculations for the various renewable power generation methods as well as computing their associated costs (ILO1-ILO8)

Reading and References

E Boeker & R Van Grondelle, Environmental Physics., J Wiley & Son, ISBN:0471 997803, 1999

G Boyle, Energy Systems & Sustainability. Oxford University Press, ISBN10: 0199261792, 2003

R Ristinen & J Krausharr, Energy & the Environment. J Wiley & Son ISBN10 0471739898, 2006

J Andrews & N Jelley, Energy Science: Principles, Technology and Impacts, Oxford University Press, ISBN:978 0 19 875581 1, 20017