Skip to main content


Whole Energy Systems

Module titleWhole Energy Systems
Module codeGEO3459
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Iain Soutar (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Energy is of fundamental importance to our personal comfort, our societal wellbeing, the quality of our environment, and the functioning of our economy. However, energy systems are complex, comprising a multitude of actors, institutions and technologies, each interacting dynamically and at times unpredictably. This complexity raises challenges for how we understand and manage energy systems. Rather than focusing on specific technologies (e.g. electric vehicles, wind power and so on), processes (e.g. electricity generation vs. consumption) or actors (e.g. Government, civil society) within energy systems, this module focuses on the role of whole systems approaches in understanding and managing energy systems. Such approaches draw on insights from multiple disciplines to engage with the complexity and interdependency inherent in energy systems, to find meaningful ways forward in understanding and shaping change in such systems.

Module aims - intentions of the module

By giving you an understanding of the fundamental social (e.g. relating to behavioural, institutional and political dimensions)and technological (e.g. relating to the demand, movement and supply of energy components of energy systems, and the interactions between them, this module provides the basis for engaging with energy issues - and indeed issues concerning other complex systems - from a system-wide perspective.

This module is research-led, practice-focused and highly current, drawing on ongoing developments in energy systems and associated research within the Energy Policy Group, namely Jess Britton (the changing role of actors in energy systems), Richard Lowes (heat and buildings) and Oscar Fitch-Roy (the politics of energy policymaking).

Attendance at weekly lectures and seminars will introduce you to relevant academic and professional skills which can be utilised and drawn on in energy-related professions and occupations. These skills will include:

  • An appreciation of the value of whole-systems thinking in addressing issues in complex systems;
  • The ability to integrate knowledge, ideas and methods from across disciplinary boundaries;
  • Competence in articulating and presenting, principles and theories using a variety of formats, in a manner appropriate to the intended audience;
  • Working effectively individually and within a group setting;
  • The development of time management and organisational skills.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe in broad terms the key components of energy systems and how they interact
  • 2. Articulate the challenges associated with understanding and managing whole energy systems
  • 3. Appraise methodologies and practical approaches associated with whole system approaches around energy

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe the theories and practicalities relating to energy systems from whole system perspective
  • 5. Articulate the relationship between issues in energy systems and wider themes in sustainability
  • 6. Synthesise material appropriately from a broad range of disciplines to support analyses
  • 7. Appraise current developments in energy policy as they emerge

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Devise and sustain a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 9. Articulate ideas and arguments using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 10. Critically reflect on learning experiences and your own performance
  • 11. Manage deadlines
  • 12. Work within groups as well as independently

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • The physical, technical and social nuts and bolts of energy systems
  • Processes of emergence and design
  • Consensus and contestation in energy system governance
  • Processes and outcomes of energy system innovation
  • Policy coherence and politics
  • Governing complex energy trade-offs and requirements

This is a team-taught module drawing on the specific research and expertise from several members of the Energy Policy Group.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Lectures (11 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching20Seminars/workshops (10 x 2 hours)
Guided Independent Study119Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and contribution to class discussionOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Small group presentations10 minutesAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Blog301500 wordsAllWritten
Essay702000 wordsAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
BlogBlogAllAugust assessment period
EssayEssayAllAugust assessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to re-submit coursework as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Mitchell C. (2008) The Political Economy of Sustainable Energy. London, Palgrave
  • Hill, M.J. (2009) The Public Policy Process. Harlow: Longman
  • Verbong, G & Loorbach, D. Governing the energy transition. Oxford. Routledge
  • Skea, J. (2010) Energy 2050: Making the transition to a secure low-carbon energy system. London. Earthscan

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Energy systems, interdisciplinarity, governance, policy

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date