Is it necessary -- and is it possible -- for the UK and other countries to make the change from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources? And what sort of changes would be involved, on a global, national and personal scale? Is there any one renewable energy source that can provide most or all of the UK's energy needs? Can we continue to expand air travel indefinitely by making planes much more fuel efficient?
Questions like these are becoming increasingly common and important, but clear answers can seem disappointingly rare. Against this background, the goal of this course is to develop a clear understanding of the physical principles that govern the key modes of energy generation and usage. This will then allow us to explore if and how our current energy needs can be supported by different types of energy sources (from fossil fuels to renewable to nuclear).
We will also look carefully at the motivations for moving away from fossil fuels, considering both climate change and the finite nature of non-renewable resources. Throughout the course, the emphasis will be on developing insight, rather than on memorizing specific numbers or factoids. We will do this by learning how to develop simple, highly approximate, but nevertheless quantitative models of physical processes. These will allow us to find surprisingly clear-cut and definitive answers to seemingly difficult questions, including those posed above.
Please note that although there are no formal pre-requisites, the mathematical skills required for this module are:
- Manipulating and solving algebraic equations
- Simplifying expressions using approximations e.g. the binomial approximation
- Calculating basic geometrical properties: area, volume, surface area
- Applying simple trigonometric functions: sine, cosine, tangent
- Working with exponential and logarithmic functions
- Interpreting graphs of functions or data on linear and logarithmic scales
- Using and converting units for physical quantities such as length, time, energy, etc.
No calculus is used in the module.