Course syllabus


FFR170 FFR170 Sustainable energy futures lp1 HT23 (7.5 hp)

Course is offered by the department of Space, Earth and Environment

Examiners: Professor Sonia Yeh (

Course administrator: Maria de Oliveira Loureiro (, Doctoral student

The course is part of the Master’s programs in Sustainable Energy Systems, Nuclear Engineering and Industrial Ecology at Chalmers University of Technology. The course is taught in English. The course consists of:

  • lectures,
  • calculations,
  • debates, and
  • group


1.1            Admission and prerequisites

The students are required to have documented calculating skills and at least 7.5 credits worth of courses in sustainable development or environmental science.


1.2            Aim of the course

The course aims to give students knowledge of the general development of the energy system (past develop- ment and outlook for the future), its environmental and resource impacts, as well as tools to analyze these developments. The overall aim of this course is to address the following questions:

  • What role may energy efficiency, renewables, fossil fuel and nuclear power, play in the near- and long-term future if the climate challenge is to be met?
  • In which sectors are limited energy resources most efficiently used, g., should biomass be used for transportation fuels, heat and electricity production, or neither?
  • Which climate policies are needed for a cost-effective solution to the climate challenge?
  • How may climate change policies reshape the world energy system over the next century?

The aim is to illustrate these issues by drawing upon recent research in the area, and based upon this to discuss visions for a sustainable energy future.


1.3            Content

  • Systems analysis - system boundaries, scale, space & time, emission allocation problems, net energy analysis, marginal vs average electricity
  • Energy economics - cost efficiency, discounting, investment analysis, prices vs costs, supply & demand curves, external costs, opportunity costs
  • Climate science and emission trends - current and historic emissions, climate sensitivity and its uncertainty, implications for future emission reductions, burden sharing between developed and developing countries
  • Policy instruments - carbon taxes vs cap-and-trade schemes, direct support vs technology neutral policies, and other instruments
  • Energy efficiency - end-use efficiency, price elasticity of demand, the energy efficiency gap, rebound effects
  • Fossil fuels - history of fossil fuel use, future availability, peak oil, shale gas and other new technologies
  • Carbon capture and storage - capture processes (post-combustion, precombustion, oxyfuels), trans- port and storage options, leakage risk, costs
  • Nuclear power - nuclear physics and fuel cycles, basic light water reactor design, safety, waste management, link to nuclear weapons, nuclear power in the global energy system
  • Intermittent renewables - grid integration of solar, hydro and wind power, global potential, recent growth and cost development, solar heating and cooling, solar fuels
  • Bioenergy - biofuel production, land use and implications for food production, emissions from direct and indirect land use change
  • Other topics - power grids, energy use in the transport sector, batteries, fuel cells and hydrogen, electro fuels, energy in the developing world, international climate politics


1.4            Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • apply the concepts and tools presented in the course to analyze real-world problems related to energy
  • understand the difference between marginal and average electricity, and apply this knowledge to solve the problems in specific contexts.
  • describe how climate policy instruments such as a cap-and-trade scheme or a carbon tax work, and reflect upon advantages and disadvantages compared to other policy instruments.
  • explain the concept of climate sensitivity and what implications the uncertainty in this parameter will have on the temperature impacts of our emissions, and how much we need to reduce emissions if we want to meet the below 2-degree target of the Paris agreement.
  • discuss the significance of climate negotiations such as the Paris Agreement, and whether they are sufficient to meet the climate target(s).
  • understand the complexity of controversial energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage, bioenergy or nuclear power, and to present the major arguments of both sides.
  • explain why energy efficiency measures are often not implemented, even though they may be more economically attractive.
  • explain what options grid operators have for dealing with large amounts of variable renewable electricity sources like solar or wind power.
  • calculate the levelized cost of electricity, given fuel costs, operation & maintenance costs, and invest- ment costs and discuss the pros and cons of using it to evaluate a technology.
  • calculate how much uranium is required to operate a nuclear reactor for a year, and how much plutonium is produced.
  • make appropriate assumptions when available information on a problem of the above type is
  • perform back-of-envelope calculations to make rough "sanity checks" of energy systems questions. For example: if a family installs solar cells on the roof of their house, would the modules provide enough electricity (on average) to power their electric car?
  • distinguish facts from Discuss Hume’s Law (one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”) when doing energy analysis. Discuss what to do about environmental problems related to energy use.
  • discuss the responsibility of individuals versus governments when it comes to solving the climate