Energy Policies for a Low Carbon Economy

Module titleEnergy Policies for a Low Carbon Economy
Module codeGEO3409B
Academic year2017/8
Module staff

Professor Catherine Mitchell (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Energy is used in all aspects of life, whether in industry; small and medium sized commercial enterprises; in domestic homes and in the public sector. It is used to heat houses and water; to power electric goods; to enable us to drive cars or to fly to distant destinations; to transport much of the food we eat; and to create the goods we sell and consume, including the clothes we wear. Each country will use energy in different ways because of its economy; its natural resources; its population; its culture, its geography and its buildings. Energy policy has to fulfil a number of goals: those related to the environment; those related to energy security; those related to economics and competitiveness; and finally those related to social concerns, including affordability. These goals can be met in different ways via different technological pathways (eg nuclear versus renewable energy plus energy efficiency) and by different operational methods (ie stupid and inflexible versus smart and flexible). The choices made by decision-makers will depend on the different weighting they give to the various goals. This module explores potential energy policies and governance systems to meet these goals, and assesses their implications for different sectors and stakeholders in the energy industry and the wider society.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sets out the latest understanding of climate change science. The globe as a whole has to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, and quickly, if it is to avert an irreversible warming of the Earth. About 90% per cent of GB climate change emissions derive from the use of energy. As a result, energy policies which cut greenhouse gas emissions are vital for meeting the challenges of climate change and reducing the environmental impacts of energy use is a central goal of energy policy.

Maintaining energy security is also of vital importance for energy policy. Energy security encompasses the notion of having an energy system with processes in place which enables consumers to use energy in the way they want, when they want. This means that the ‘physical’ supply of energy needs to be secure, meaning that the required amount of, for example natural gas or oil, can be imported or transported to the required point of use. In addition, the infrastructure of the energy system has to be maintained. This means for example, that heat and electricity networks which transport energy around the place (including inter-connectors between countries) have to be adequately maintained so that they do not break down. Sufficient electricity power plants have to be built to meet electricity demand and sufficient port capacity has to be available for imports (eg gas or oil).

There are also social concerns of energy policy. GB has a significant problem of fuel poverty – households which are unable to afford sufficient energy to maintain their health and wellbeing. Fuel poverty tends to result from some combination of poor, energy inefficient housing, low income and high energy prices. Energy prices are the end product of all sorts of factors – and if there is not some effort to keep them low it means that some stakeholders somewhere are earning more profit than they should do; and more households tip into fuel poverty than should do.

Energy efficiency is a fundamental dimension of a sustainable, secure and affordable energy system. But also, a more customer-orientated approach to energy provision may be required to deal with the on-going transition to a sustainable, secure, efficient and affordable energy system. The energy system itself will have to be operated in a different way and a more flexible, distributed and participatory energy system is likely to be needed. This is an energy system where customers are ‘active’ as opposed to the ‘passive’ role they currently have.

The energy system is an interwoven network of different actors (customers (conventionally described as domestic, industrial, commercial, private sector but increasingly being divided by the extent they interact with the energy system, ie active, inactive and prosumers); institutions; energy companies (incumbents and new entrants); local, regional, national and international Government; the law (Acts; planning, building regulations etc)) and different technologies (supply, demand, operation); supply chain for fuels and equipment. It also inter-links with waste resources, water and agriculture and food policy.

Energy policy is therefore complex but also hugely important to everyday life around the world. This module will explain the key issues that GB and other countries (and their energy policies) around the world grapple with. By the end of the module, you should have a broad understanding of the requirements for, and difficulties of, establishing a meaningful energy policy suitable for a low carbon economy.

You will be encouraged to use the coursework to develop your own interest in low carbon energy systems by considering real world scenarios that will better equip you to apply knowledge to practical solutions in the workplace. Attendance at weekly lectures and seminars will introduce you to relevant academic and professional skills which can be utilised in energy-related professions and occupations. These will include:

  • problem solving skills and developing your own ideas with confidence;
  • setting clearly defined goals and clear objectives;
  • time management skills;
  • working effectively individually and within a group setting;
  • presenting ideas and responding positively and effectively to questions.

The module is research-led and introduces you to real world and relevant issues around energy and the practicalities of a low carbon transition.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe and evaluate the key issues and questions that energy policy and energy policy initiatives have to deal with whether technical, social, economic or institutional
  • 2. Outline the different choices which have to be made to create a low carbon energy economy, and their impacts on different stakeholders and institutions. (While the UK will often be referenced, other countries will be used as additional case studies wherever possible)
  • 3. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theories about energy policy

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 5. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in energy policy

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 7. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 8. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

  • Introductory lecture (the goals of energy policy; the constituents of an energy system and how they fit together; where energy is used; what technologies are available for electricity, heat and transport fuels)
  • The international context
  • ‘lemmas – ‘Tri’, ‘Quad’ or  nonsense? (is it possible to make trade-offs between goals)
  • The basics of energy economics
  • People and energy
  • Heat and buildings
  • Transformation to a ‘smart and flexible’ energy system Part 1
  • Transformation to a ‘smart and flexible’ energy system Part 2
  • Agents for change – energy framework transformation
  • The politics of energy policy making
  • Wrap-up

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 Teaching10Lectures/workshops (10 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Seminars (10 x 1 hour)
Guided Independent Study130Additional 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 Ongoing throughout the moduleAllOral

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
Briefing paper for Minister35No more than 2 pages1-5, 8Written
Opinion piece301000 words4-8Written
Lobbying plan35No more than 3 pages4-8Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Briefing paper for MinisterBriefing paper for Minister1-5, 8August assessment period
Opinion pieceOpinion piece4-8August assessment period
Lobbying planLobbying plan4-8August 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

For introduction, ‘lemmas, trade-offs; institutions, wrap-up etc:

  • House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee Reports
  • Helm D. (2004) Energy, the State and the Market: British Energy Policy since 1979. Oxford University Press
  • Scrase I. et al (2009) Energy for the Future: A New Agenda. Palgrave, Macmillan
  • HM Government (2011) The Carbon Plan,
  • IPCC, Fifth Assessment Reports,
  • Mitchell C. (2008) The Political Economy of Sustainable Energy. London, Palgrave

General context – the blogs etc on; and then specifically

For ‘smart and flexible’ energy systems: ECC: Low carbon network infrastructure 2016:

For politics of decision-making:

  • Hill, M.J. (2009) The Public Policy Process. Harlow: Longman
  • Weible, C.M., Heikkila, T., deLeon, P., Sabatier, P. a. (2012) Understanding and influencing the policy process. Policy Sciences. 45(1), 1–21; E3G (2014) Driving Change and Opportunity through Strategic Influencing. London. Available at: (pdf to be made available on the course site)
  • Magritte Group (2013) Press release: Heads of 12 Leading European Energy Companies Propose Concrete Measures to Rebuild Europe’s Energy Policy. Brussels: GDF Suez. (pdf to be made available on the course site)
  • Shell, Areva, CEZ, Enel, GDF Suez, Fortum, RWE, Statoil (2013) 2030: the case for single carbon target. Brussels. (pdf to be made available on the course site)

For Heat and Buildings:

  • Connor, P.M., Xie, L., Lowes, R., Britton, J., Richardson, T. (2015) The development of renewable heating policy in the United Kingdom. Renewable Energy. 75, 733–744
  • Dodds, P.E., McDowall, W. (2013) The future of the UK gas network. Energy Policy. 60, 305–316;
  • Eyre, N., Baruah, P. (2015) Uncertainties in future energy demand in UK residential heating. Energy Policy, 1–13; IEA (2014) Heating without global warming- Market developments and policy considerations for renewable heat,

For people and energy:

For economics:

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Social, security, finance, economics, energy, renewable, IPCC, Carbon, demand, energy systems, stakeholders, government, politics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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