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The first 25 years: OU Renewable Energy Education

Updated Monday, 18th October 2021

Derek Taylor reflects on the 25 years since launching the innovative Open University T521 Renewable Energy Pack for Tertiary Education. This was a revolutionary development for the OU.

Photo of wind turbines in an Offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. Creative commons image Icon Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Rampion Offshore Wind Farm, United Kingdom

The Energy & Environment Research Unit (EERU) at the OU was formed in 1985 by a merger of ATG (Alternative Technology Group) and ERG (Energy Research Group). EERU’s remit included wind, solar, energy in buildings, transport, biofuels, and other renewables. In my case I had been investigating wind, renewables and low energy buildings since 1972, and joined ATG in 1979, mainly researching innovative wind energy projects at the OU throughout the 1980s.

In 1990/91 EERU was awarded a £500,000 commission by what was the DTI at the time (Department of Trade & Industry) to develop a Renewable Energy Teaching Pack for Tertiary Education to transform and expand education about Renewable Energy in the UK.  

We believe that this was the first renewable energy course to cover all renewables, and it supported educators at institutions in the UK and around the world, including in Europe, North America and Australia. It is also thought to be the first course to apply consistent methodologies to all the renewables and to cover resources, physics, technologies, environmental aspects and economics. A product of its time, it included a rich array of learning resources including print materials, videos, software and slide packs.

Launched in 1995/96, this OU Renewable Energy Pack changed the game and transformed renewable energy education in colleges and universities both in the UK and overseas. It was well received and highly praised and won two 1995 EuroSolar Prize Awards.

EuroSolar 1995 awards clipping from Open House

In 1996, we adapted the Pack to develop the first (T265) of the Open University distance teaching Renewable Energy course modules, and again, the first product of its kind on the market - and still going strong as other OU courses, such as T313 and T213.

We also wrote an accompanying textbook Renewable Energy: Power for a Sustainable Future co-published by Oxford University Press - now in its fourth edition, for which I contributed the Wind Energy chapter in each edition.  Since 2015, it has been consistently positioned at No.1 in the Top 10 Best Books on Renewable Energy chart compiled by EARTHAVA 10 Best Renewable Energy Books Of 2020 - Earthava.

Over the last quarter of a century, we have educated over 11,000 students in renewable energy – many more if we include those reached by the original Pack and the TERI (The Energy & Resources Institute) version adapted for India plus students taught by lecturers who use our textbook. So, in the 1990s EERU and the OU essentially became a world leader in Renewable Energy Education.

A chart of electricity generated (TWh) from renewable sources in the United Kingdom between 2009 and 2018 Creative commons image Icon Data from IEA, graphic by author Derek Taylor under Creative-Commons license Annual electricity in the UK generated by wind power 1990 - 2020

When we started on the initial pack, only one UK wind farm was operating, and wind was a negligible contributor to the electricity grid. But by 2020, wind contributed over 24% of UK electricity, enough electricity to power 18 million homes and abate some 29 million tonnes of CO2.  Whilst in Scotland, the home of COP26 in November 2021, wind energy generated over 70% of electricity with renewables contributing over 97%.

A page from the Renewable Energy Resource Pack for Tertiery Education 1994-95 Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: The Open University Click to view full size Coupled with the expansion of solar and energy storage etc., at east there are encouraging news during these tough times we are currently living in. Hopefully, my Wind Energy educational resources and chapters in our various Renewable Energy courses since 1995/6 have contributed somewhat to this progress and to the reduction of CO2 emissions over that time.

When announcing in 1991 that the OU had been awarded a grant to produce the Pack, the UK Energy Minister, John Wakeham added: “he hoped that the pack would play an important part in generating a base of skilled personnel in the renewable energy field in the UK.” Hopefully in 2021, as the UK prepares for the UN climate negotiations in Glasgow, we have done just that.

Godfrey Bevan, former DTI head of Renewables who commissioned the original Pack, commented in 2019 that: “I think the country owes a great debt to the ATG/EERU as pioneers in the field, which it will never even know about.”

Click to view the Renewable Energy Resource Pack (1995) 

 

CALL OUT to OU Alumni, were you educated on our Renewable Energy Course, if so we would love to know whether you went onto working in renewables. We would also like to hear from you as we are hoping to celebrate 25 years of OU Renewable Education, if you would like to get in touch, please email us using OU-Alumni-Renewables-25-STEM@open.ac.uk

 

 

 

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