Centre for Environment and Sustainability

Transitions to a Low Carbon Economy

8-12 January 2018

Price: £1275

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Module co-ordinator Prof Matthew Leach
Other contributors                   

Surrey: Walter Wehrmeyer, Mohammed Sanduk, Richard Murphy, Matthew Arnold.

External: Sarah Taylor, Yacob Mulugetta, Joanne Wade, Robert Gross, Chris Mazur.

Module availability Semester 1
Overall student workload 150 hours overall student workload
Contact hours 35
Guided study 15
Independent study 100


Units of assessment Weighting towards Module Mark (%)
Pre-module assignment linked to pre-reading 20%
Group project work undertaken during module week 20%
Post-module individual essay 60%

Alternative assessment: Individual essay for pre-module assignment or group project work; different choice of essay topic for post-module assignment.

Qualifying condition(s): A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module.

Pre-requisite/co-requisites: None.

Module overview

Energy use and the systems put in place to supply it are responsible for the majority of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide and hence much climate change policy is directed towards the energy sector. Energy is also central to economic development and social welfare and thus energy security and cost minimisation are high on national policy agendas.

Energy markets throughout the world are also evolving rapidly, with privatisation, competition, market structure and regulation remaining prominent issues in the UK, Europe and internationally. The range of challenges for energy policy is diverse and exciting. This Module focuses on the transitions needed from the current situations in energy use, supply, markets and policy to those required as part of a long term, sustainable, low carbon energy system.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  • Develop specialist knowledge of the energy field within a more general environmental/sustainability framework
  • Provide students from natural science, engineering, social science and other backgrounds with a broad understanding of the role of energy, and of the range of economic, human and environmental impacts associated with energy systems.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Understand the range of issues relevant to energy policy (K)
  • Capable of contributing to policy and strategic energy/carbon management analyses in a broad range of areas across the energy sector (K, C, T, P)
  • Able to apply their knowledge appropriately to energy issues in both developed and developing countries (K, C, P)
  • Able to write clear, critical and authoritative reports, both on technical subjects and on policy issues concerning energy (T, P).

Key: C-Cognitive/Analytical; K-Subject Knowledge; T-Transferable Skills; P- Professional/Practical skills.

Module content

Indicative content includes:

  • Introduction to energy: overview of end use, supply, economics and policy
  • Energy end use: current patterns and trends (including transport)
  • Energy conversion and supply: overview of resources; functions of markets; focus on electricity, heat for buildings and transport fuels
  • Low carbon energy options: carbon management and demand side actions; carbon capture and storage; renewables & nuclear
  • Low carbon scenarios & energy system transitions; economics and timing of CO2 mitigation; links to Sustainable Development and other policy objectives
  • Accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy: role of institutions, behavioural change and policy
  • Open discussion on energy sector responses to climate change.

Methods of teaching/learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to:

  • Motivate students to engage with the breadth of this subject, and to learn to take a multidisciplinary perspective, integrating technical, economic and social science understandings
  • Provide students with a thorough knowledge of a variety of approaches to analysing and developing transitions and help them to integrate and apply their existing knowledge.

The learning and teaching methods include:

  • Pre-course study directed by essential readings
  • Lectures, seminars, audio and video presentations
  • Class discussions
  • Group case study
  • Post course study.

Assessment strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate:

  • Basic knowledge of the topic, at the start of the module
  • In depth knowledge and understanding of one or more sectors or topics by the end of the module
  • Ability to analyse and synthesise information to produce strategies and recommendations.

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

  • Pre-module short answer assignment linked to pre-reading, max 1000 words. Submitted by 9am on the first day of the module
  • Group project work undertaken during module week; report max 5 pages. Submitted by 5pm on the last day of the module
  • 2500 word post-module individual essay. Submitted 4 weeks after the end of the module.

Formative assessment and feedback students will receive:

  • Feedback on the pre-module assignment, during the module week
  • Feedback on the first pieces of the groupwork, during the module week
  • Feedback on the group presentation made on the final day.

Essential reading

Specific sections will be suggested in the pre-module information provided.

Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (2000). Twenty-second report: Energy : the changing climate. http://tna.europarchive.org/20081107202233/http://www.rcep.org.uk/newene...

UNDP (2005). Energy Services for the Millennium Development Goals. http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/MP_Energy_Low_Res.pdf

DECC (2014). Community Energy Strategy https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil... Community_Energy_Strategy.pdf

Department for Transport (2007). Low Carbon Transport Innovation Strategy http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20071109011320/http://www.dft.... search/technology/lctis/lowcarbontis

POST (2008) The Transition to a Low Carbon Economy. PostNote 318. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, London. http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/postpn318.pdf

Timothy J Foxon, Geoffrey P Hammond and Peter J Pearson (2008), Transition pathways for a low carbon energy system in the UK: assessing the compatibility of large-scale and small-scale options. Paper for 7th BIEE Academic Conference, St Johns College, Oxford, 24-25 September 2008. http://www.bath.ac.uk/lowcarbon/publications/Foxon_Hammond_Pearson_BIEE_...

Recommended reading

Specific sections will be suggested in the pre-module information provided.

UNFCCC (2008). Clean Development Mechanism in Brief http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/publications/08_cdm_in_brief.pdf

Department for Transport (2009). Low Carbon Transport: A Greener Future http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm76/7682/7682.pdf

Department for Transport (2004) Smarter Choices – Changing the way we travel http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070129175641/http://www.dft.... e/smarterchoices/ctwwt/

Timothy J Foxon, Geoffrey P Hammond and Peter J Pearson (2010), Developing transition pathways for a low carbon electricity system in the UK. Technological Forecasting & Social Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2010.04.002 (you need your university access to electronic journals to access this)

Pacala, S. and Socolow, R., "Stabilization wedges: Solving the climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies" Science, Vol. 305, 2004, pp. 968-972. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/305/5686/968.pdf (you need your university access to electronic journals to access this)

IPCC, eg 4th Assessment report, and working papers on specific topics http://www.ipcc.ch/

Background reading

David Mackay (2008). Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. Full book, and chapters, available to download at http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html

Ivan Scrase and Gordon MacKerron (2009) Energy for the future: A New Agenda. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.