Renewable energy

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.

Course facts
About this course:
Course code T313
Credits 30
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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.
  • 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.
  • 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 into energy systems – a detailed look at the conditions under which the various renewable energy sources can continue to make increasingly significant contributions to world energy needs.

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.

Vocational relevance

You may be interested in a professional career in the energy industry; or may be concerned about the sustainability problems associated with our current energy issues. This module will help you to:

  • communicate scientific and technological aspects of a variety of renewable energy technologies
  • find, critically evaluate and use current information on renewable energy technologies
  • plan, monitor and evaluate progress in project work
  • produce a project report on the technological and economic viability of a proposed renewable energy system
  • interpret manufacturer's specifications for renewable energy devices and systems.


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 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.

Study materials

What's included

Core textbook Boyle, G. (2012) Renewable Energy (3rd edn). All other study materials will be available via the module website.

You will need

You will have a choice of a buildings-based or community-based project for the end-of-module assessment. Please note that if you choose the buildings-based option, you will need a PC or laptop running Windows to use the plan assessor software that is provided for this option. The software is not compatible with an Apple Mac or Linux computer.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a desktop or laptop computer with Windows 7 or higher.

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To participate in our online discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones.

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. There may be a mix of face-to-face and online tutorials. How tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module in your area.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


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

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) and end-of-module assessment (EMA).

The EMA is a project that you will develop throughout your study of the module.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone. The Accessibility Statement below outlines what studying this module involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Mode of study

Approximately half of this module’s study materials are online. Online materials are composed of pages of text with images, audio/video clips up to 21 minutes in length (all with transcripts/subtitles), some diagrams, and interactive self-assessed questions. Online materials also include links to external resources, online forums and online tutorial rooms. The printed textbook is also available as a talking book.

Tuition strategy

This module provides a range of face to face and online tutorials. Each face-to-face tutorial has an online alternative. Although not compulsory, attendance at tutorials will help you choose your project topic and will guide you towards a successful submission of each of the three pieces of assessment.

Mathematical and scientific expressions and notations

Mathematical and scientific symbols and expressions are used throughout the module and you will be required to use such notation within assessment. Most of the formulae used are practised within the two assignments as well as the final End-of-Module Assessment (EMA) – your project.

Diagrams and other visual content

The study materials contain diagrams, graphs, technical specifications and photographs. Reading and interpreting these is an important part of the study of this module and is assessed. An example might be interpreting an industrial specification for energy output from a wind turbine. Figure descriptions are provided for all figures.

Finding information

You may be required to search for, and make use of, third-party material online and this is assessed in specific questions in the assignments. Alternatives for required material can be provided to enable you to meet the Learning Outcomes of the module.


This module has two Tutor-Marked Assignments (TMAs), which must be submitted online via the OU electronic TMA system, and an End-of-Module Assessment (EMA) submitted online. In the EMA you may need to insert graphs (from Excel) or screenshots of figures into your final submission file, usually Microsoft Word.


You will receive feedback from your tutor on your submitted Tutor-Marked Assignments (TMAs). This will help you to reflect on your TMA performance. You should refer to it to help you prepare for your next assignment. This module does not provide feedback for the End-of-Module Assessment (EMA).


All University modules are structured according to a set timetable and you will need time-management skills to keep your studies on track. You will have access to a detailed weekly calendar and you should balance your work on this module with any other modules you are taking as well as your other commitments.

Specialist software

This module uses specialist symbols, such as energy units like kilowatt hours, which are not covered by standard accessibility tools. The module materials and assessment ask you to use a specialist software ‒ National Home Energy Software ‒ to calculate your home’s annual energy use. The software uses drop-down menus and other input fields to collect data. The software may not be fully accessible as a result and some students use a helper to work with them to produce results for the assignments. The module also uses spreadsheets in Excel to calculate and plot various results.

Future availability

Renewable energy (T313) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2020.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2024.

Professional recognition

The Open University is a Learning Affiliate Member of the Energy Institute.