Energy, Climate and Sustainability
This theme addresses one of the fundamental challenges facing humanity in the future, with an emphasis on energy, climate and environmental and economic sustainability. It aims to show that the inherent interlinking between these problems makes a systematic approach essential.
Introductory theme course
The introductory theme course introduces the concept of sustainable development and discusses its implications within the context of energy policies and climate change. The carbon cycle and the Earth’s energy balance are explained to understand our (changing) climate, and what measures are needed to limit global warming to a level that is considered acceptable. As three quarters of the global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by fossil fuel use, we focus on energy in this course. We discuss our energy demand; the difference between work, energy and power; frequently used energy units; and explain basic thermodynamics to understand why energy conversions are inherently inefficient.
We treat the following energy sources in detail: fossil fuels, nuclear energy, biomass, solar and wind energy. Following MacKay we go for numbers, not (only) adjectives. Hence, physical concepts and equations are introduced to describe energy conversions, to calculate their potential for a significant contribution to our energy demand and to explore some of their limitations. We discuss reserves, environmental impacts, strategic concerns, costs and benefits. In addition we take a close look at transport and heating (18% and 13% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands, respectively). During this course, students will also do laboratory experiments on wind turbines and Stirling engines.