The University of Newcastle, Australia
Not currently offered

Course handbook


What would it take for Australian society to function entirely without fossil fuels? It's often stated that "huge amounts of renewable energy are available" - wind, solar, wave, and so forth. But our current energy consumption is also huge. We need to know how one "huge" compares with the other. We need numbers, not adjectives. This course shows how to estimate the numbers, and what those numbers depend upon.

The motivations for sustainable energy are first considered: finite fossil fuel resources, climate change and energy security. The bulk of the course, however, is devoted to developing a simple quantitative framework for determining which energy proposals "add up" for Australia, with all major sustainable energy sources considered: wind, solar, hydroelectricity, wave, tide, biofuels, geothermal, and nuclear. Ways to reduce consumption are investigated, including better transport, and smarter heating/cooling. A range of energy plans for Australia are investigated, making clear the size of changes that society must undergo in order to function without fossil fuels.


Not currently offered.

This Course was last offered in Semester 2 - 2016.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

1. Recognise the key drivers behind increasing demand for sustainable energy sources: finite fossil fuel resources, climate change, and energy security

2. Employ the key units involved in sustainable energy systems, including energy (kWh), power (kW), energy per-day per-person (kWh/d/p), and power density (W/m2)

3. Discuss the major categories of end-uses of energy (transport, residential, commercial, manufacturing and construction, agriculture and mining), and typical energy costs of these uses computed on a per-day per-person basis

4. Recognise the broad variety of sustainable energy sources in Australia, including wind, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic (PV), hydroelectricity, wave, tide, biofuels, geothermal and nuclear

5. Estimate the energy conceivably available from sustainable sources in Australia, as well as the present usage (computed on a per-day per-person basis); and

6. Recognise the challenges and implications of eliminating the use of fossil fuels


In this course we progressively build a pair of red and green stacks representing, respectively, the average energy use of a typical moderately affluent person, and all conceivable sustainable energy sources. Both energy use and sustainable energy sources are computed on a per-person per-day basis, in an Australian setting. The comparable height of the stacks at the end of Part 1, and the resources required to achieve this end, will determine the answer to our question "Can we conceivably live without fossil fuels?" In Part 2, the height of the red stack is reduced through better transport, and better heating and cooling. The green stack is also revisited by considering carbon capture and storage, and nuclear energy. An indicative outline for the proposed course is shown below: Part 1: Numbers, not adjectives

  1. Motivations; The balance sheet
  2. Energy and power
  3. Solar Cars and planes
  4. Lighting and gadgets
  5. Hydroelectricity; Geothermal
  6. Wind; Wave; Tidal
  7. Can we live on sustainable energy?

Part 2: Making a difference

  1. Better transport
  2. Smarter heating and cooling
  3. Carbon capture and storage; Sustainable fossil fuels; Nuclear energy
  4. Fluctuations and storage; Energy plans for Australia;

Assumed knowledge

There is no assumed knowledge for this course.

Assessment items

Formal Examination: Formal Examination

Participation: Discussion Forum

Quiz: Quiz 3

Quiz: Quiz 2

Quiz: Quiz 1

Written Assignment: Assignment