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PHYS 2015 “Introduction to Energy and the Environment”

● Course Coordinator:

– Dr Christian Knigge, Building 46, Room 5063

● Assessment:

– 100% Final Exam

● Lectures:

– Wednesday, 9:00 – 10:00, Physics Lecture Theatre C

– Thursday, 16:00 – 18:00, Physics Lecture Theatre C
● Course Website:

– Blackboard: 09-10-INTRODUCTION TO ENERGY IN THE ENVIRONMENT-12251 (PHYS2015-12251-09-10)

● Book:

– “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” by David JC MacKay

– UIT Cambridge, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9544529-3-3
– available free online from

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 1
Why is the need for and path to sustainable energy so controversial?

Some recent quotes:

● “Our windswept island has more than enough wind, wave and tidal power
potential to meet all of our energy needs many times over. Between them, wind,
wave and tidal power could deliver more than twice as much electricity than the
proposed new fleet of nuclear reactors in the same time frame”

● Wind 'could power all UK homes': All UK homes could be powered by offshore
wind farms by 2020 as part of the fight against climate change, under plans unveiled
by [business secretary] John Hutton. ... Senior Tory Alan Duncan backed the plans,
adding: "We're an island nation. There's a lot of wind around."
BBC News, December 2007

● Britain needs new coal and nuclear power stations to 'keep the lights on',
minister warns: Britain must press ahead with new coal and nuclear power stations
to keep the nation's lights on, business secretary John Hutton has said.
Daily Mail, September 2008

What is going on?

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 2
The Goals of this Course I: Cutting through the BS1

Another quote (from the preface to your course book):

What’s this book about?

I’m concerned about cutting UK emissions of twaddle – twaddle about sustainable energy.
Everyone says getting off fossil fuels is important, and we’re all encouraged to “make a
difference,” but many of the things that allegedly make a difference don’t add up.

Twaddle emissions are high at the moment because people get emotional (for example about
wind farms or nuclear power) and no-one talks about numbers. Or if they do mention numbers,
they select them to sound big, to make an impression, and to score points in arguments, rather
than to aid thoughtful discussion.

This is a straight-talking book about the numbers. The aim is to guide the reader around the
claptrap to actions that really make a difference and to policies that add up.

David JC MacKay

 Biased Spin

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 3
The Goals of this Course I: Cutting through the BS1
Or, to put it another way....

 Biased Spin

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 4
The Goals of this Course II: Making Us Better Scientists
We live at a time when emotions and feelings count more than truth, and there is a 
vast ignorance of science. 
James Lovelock

● When considering important questions to which correct, quantitative answers must exist, we, as
scientists, have a special responsibility not to accept – let alone voice – assertions and opinions
unless they are demonstrably based on rational, quantitative analysis.
● Virtually all of the controversial topics in the area of sustainable energy can be phrased as (or are
related to) questions that fall in this category
● Many – but not all! – of these questions can be answered (or at least understood) by constructing
simple, approximate models of the underlying physical processes.
● In this course, we will
– develop a solid understanding of the physical processes involved in energy production and
– construct simple, approximate, yet quantitative models for these processes
– become comfortable with using and interpreting such models
– explore the implications of the resulting numbers for a sustainable energy policy

● In the process, I hope we will become better scientists: ready to deploy – not abandon – our
physical insight and quantitative skills even when faced with unfamiliar new settings

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A small sample of the questions we'll hopefully be better placed to
address at the end of this course

● Can a country like Britain conceivably live on its own renewable energy sources?

● Is there any one renewable energy source that can satisfy most of our energy needs?

● Can we avoid an energy crises if everyone turns their thermostats down one degree,
drives a smaller car, and switches off their inactive phone chargers?

● Should speed-limits on roads be halved?

● Is an advocate of windmills over nuclear power stations “an enemy of the people”?

● Can we continue to expand air travel indefinitely by making planes much more fuel

● More generally, will a switch to “advanced technologies” allow us to eliminate carbon

dioxide pollution without changing our lifestyle?

● Should people be encouraged to eat more vegetarian food?

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 6
Course Outline: I Basics

● The Power of Estimation

● Energy, power and entropy
– Forms of energy: kinetic, potential, thermal, chemical
– Energy vs Power
– “Useful energy” and relation to entropy
● Useful units (and useless ones)
– Preferred units for the course
– Annoying units
● Some useful concepts and numbers
– Population sizes and densities (with introduction to exponential growth)
– Energy densities (“calorific values”)
– Heat capacities

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 7
Course Outline: II Motivation

● Why bother thinking about sustainable energy?

– Climate change

● Greenhouse effect

● Energy and CO2

– Finite fossil fuel supplies

● How long will oil and coal last?

– Energy security

● The need to ensure a reliable energy supply

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 8
Course Outline: III The Balance Sheet

Current Consumption Sustainable Production

● Transport: planes, trains and automobiles ● Onshore and offshore wind

● Heating and cooling ● Solar

● Light ● Hydroelectricity

● Food and farming ● Tides

● Public Services ● Waves

● Gadgets and “stuff” ● Geothermal

Can we live on our own renewables?

PHYS2015 "Energy and the Environment" Lecture 1 9
Course Outline: IV Making a Difference
● Efficiency Improvements
– Transport
– Heating
– Electricity use
● “Quasi-renewables”
– Sustainable fossil fuels?
– Nuclear?
– Other countries renewables?
● Concrete Energy Plans
– UK, Europe, America and the World
● Options of last resort
● The importance of saying yes...

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