3.3 Energy resources

The importance of energy resources in both past and future developments in society should be analysed. The impact of future energy supply problems should be evaluated.

Students should understand how improvements in technology can provide increasing amounts of energy from sustainable sources.

Quantitative data should be used to compare and evaluate new and existing technologies.

The importance of energy supplies in the development of society


Additional information

Agriculture How increased mechanization has increased productivity.

How energy has increased catches and made processing easier.


How energy allows the extraction and processing of materials.

The role of energy in service industries.

Water supplies

How energy is used to treat water for use and clean waste water from industrial or domestic use.


The use of energy in transport systems.

Domestic life The role of energy in improved material living standards.

The impact of the features of energy resources on their use

Students should understand that each energy resource has its own features which make it applicable to particular uses. Technologies in current use often developed to match them to the available energy resources. New energy technologies may need additional technologies to be fully usable, eg storage.


Additional information

Features of energy resources

  • Abundance.
  • Energy density.
  • Locational constraints.
  • Intermittency.
  • Need for energy conversions to produce point-of-use energy.

Quantitative data should be used to compare different energy resources and evaluate the potential for energy resources in the future.

The sustainability of current energy resource exploitation


Additional information

Impact of resource exploitation before the use of the energy:
  • fuel extraction: coal mines, oil extraction
  • fuel processing: coal, crude oil
  • equipment manufacture: all energy resources
  • site development/operation: all energy resources
  • transport: combustible fuels
  • embodied energy in equipment: all energy resources.

Impact as a consequence of use.


  • atmospheric pollution caused by fossil fuels
  • oil pollution
  • radioactive waste
  • noise pollution: wind power
  • thermal pollution: steam trubine power stations.
Habitat damage.
  • Fuel extraction.
  • Power station and equipment location.
  • Ecological impacts of tidal power schemes.
  • Ecological impacts of HEP schemes.
  • Pipelines and cables.

Depletion of reserves.

Non-renewable energy resources.

Strategies to secure future energy supplies

Students should analyse and evaluate key issues and quantitative data to evaluate the potential future contribution of each energy resource.

Students should understand how specific technologies increase the usability of each energy resource.


Additional information

Fossil fuels
  • Secondary/tertiary recovery of oil, directional drilling.
  • Oil shales/Tar sands.
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
  • Hydraulic fracturing.
  • Coal gasification.
  • Coal liquifaction.
  • Methane hydrates from marine sediments.

Nuclear power: fission and fusion.

  • improved uranium extraction techniques
  • plutonium reactors
  • thorium reactors.
Fusion as a research technology:
  • toroidal reactors
  • laser fusion.

Renewable energy technologies.

Solar power:
  • photothermal solar power
  • heat pumps
  • photovoltaic solar power
  • multi-junction photovoltaic cells
  • anti-reflective surfaces
  • Concentrating Solar Power (CSP).
  • low head turbines
  • helical turbines.
Wind power:
  • new Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWT)
  • new Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT)
  • wind-assisted ships.

Wave power: new developments in wave power technology.

  • biofuel crops
  • hydrogen from algae
  • biofuels from microorganisms.
Geothermal power:
  • low temperature fluids
  • district heating systems.
Tidal power:
  • tidal barrages
  • tidal lagoons
  • in-stream turbines.

Fluctuations in energy supply and demand, and new energy storage systems.

Students should evaluate the importance of energy storage in the use of the available energy resources and energy forms.

The development of new energy storage methods will allow more effective peak-shaving to match fluctuating supplies to fluctuating demand.

Causes of fluctuations in energy supply.

The use of intermittent energy resources.

Causes of fluctuations in energy demand.

  • Weather-related fluctuations.
  • Seasonal fluctuations.
  • Weekday/weekend fluctuations.
  • 24 hr work fluctuations.
  • Short-term fluctuations: mealtimes/TV ‘pickup’.

Developments in energy storage technologies.

  • Peak shaving using Pumped-Storage HEP.
  • Rechargeable batteries.
  • Fuel cells.
  • Compressed gas.
  • Thermal storage.
  • Vehicle to grid systems (V2G).
  • Power to grid systems (P2G).
  • The ‘hydrogen economy’.

New energy conservation technologies


Additional information

Improvements in the efficiency of energy use enable the same activities to be carried out with less energy.


Transport energy conservation


Additional information

Vehicle design for use
  • Aerodynamics/hydrodynamics.
  • Low mass.
  • Tyre/wheel design.
  • Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS)/regenerative braking.
  • Use of low embodied energy materials.
  • Bulk transport systems.
Transport infrastructure and management systems
  • Integrated transport systems road/rail/cycle.
  • Active Traffic Management (ATM)/’Smart motorways’.
Vehicle design for end of life
  • Use of recyclable materials.
  • Easier component identification.
  • Easy dismantling/material separation.

Building energy conservation


Additional information

Building design
  • Orientation/features for passive solar gains.
  • Low surface area: volume ratio.
  • High thermal mass materials.
Use of materials/construction methods with low embodied energy
  • Low embodied energy materials, eg rammed earth, limecrete, straw.
  • Earth-sheltered buildings.
Use of materials with low thermal conductivity/transmittance
  • Double/triple glazing.
  • Low emissivity glass.
  • Vacuum/inert gas double/triple glazing.
  • Wall/floor/roof insulation.
Energy management technologies
  • Occupancy sensors.
  • Improved insulation.
  • Automatic/solar ventilation.
  • Heat exchangers.

Low energy appliances

  • Lighting: CFL, LED.
  • ‘Low-energy’ white goods.

Industrial energy conservation


Additional information

Heat management
  • Bulk storage of hot fluids.
  • Use of heat exchangers.
  • Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems.
Electricity infrastructure management
  • High voltage grid.
  • Peak shaving/pumped storage HEP.
  • The use of ICT to co-ordinate data on electricity supply and demand and plan supply changes.
  • Locational factors affecting the development of new generating infrastructure.

Opportunities for skills development and independent thinking

Mathematical skill numberOpportunities for skills development and independent thinking
MS 0.1Students could convert between joules, watts, kWh and MWh when carrying out calculations.
MS 0.2Students could carry out calculations using numbers in standard and ordinary form, eg when comparing production of different energy resources.
MS 0.3Students could calculate surface area to volume ratios and relate this to heat loss.
MS 0.5Students could use V3 in wind power calculations.
MS 1.2Students could find the mean of a range of data, eg mean power output of a wind farm.
MS 1.3Students could represent a range of data in a table with clear headings, units and consistent decimal places, eg to compare the energy density, production cost, carbon intensity and mean load factor for a range of energy resources.
MS 1.3Students could interpret data from a variety of graphs, eg change in electricity cost from renewable energy sources, industrial output and level of financial incentives/tax over a number of years.
MS 1.7Students could construct a scatter graph of per capita energy use and mean GDP.
MS 1.8Students could calculate national energy use from population and individual use data.
MS2.2Students could use and manipulate equations, eg energy conversion efficiency.
MS 2.3Students could use data on wind velocities in the formula used to calculate kinetic energy available to an aerogenerator.
MS 2.4Students could calculate the power outputs of HEP stations with different flow rates and head of water.
MS 3.1

Students could construct a Sankey diagram to represent energy resources, uses and efficiency for a country.

Students could construct a radar diagram to show variations in wind direction.

MS 3.4Students could predict/sketch the shape of a graph with a linear relationship, eg the relationship between isolation and solar panel output.
MS 3.7Students could use a tangent to measure the gradient of a point on a curve, eg rate of heat loss through double glazing with varying gaps.
MS 4.1Students could calculate the surface area and volume of cylinders or spheres, eg to estimate rates of heat loss in energy conservation programmes.

Working scientifically Students could plan activities to investigate environmental issues related to energy which they could carry out eg:

  • the effect of climatic variability on the use of solar or wind power
  • the cost-effectiveness of increasing thicknesses of thermal insulation
  • students could compare the energy input and light output of a range of light bulb types to investigate efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Students could plan activities in a range of broader environmental contexts related to energy, including ones where first-hand experience of practical activities may not be possible eg: students could plan a study to investigate the cost-effectiveness of different double glazing systems.

Practical skill numberOpportunities for skills development and independent thinking
PS 1.2Students could analyse historical and current data to suggest how building energy efficiency could be improved most effectively.
PS 3.1Students could plot and interpret graphs on the energy intensity of domestic products to assess improvements in energy efficiency.
PS 4.1The practical skills of using equipment within scientific studies are expanded, as appropriate, in detail in the selected methodologies and sampling techniques below.

Opportunities to investigate the required methodologies of which students must have first hand experience. Further details can be found in Appendix A: Working scientifically

Methodology skill numberOpportunities for skills development and independent thinking
Me 2Students could use a grid of sample sites and collect data on wind velocities to select the optimum location for a wind turbine.
Me 5Students could measure insolation levels at a standard time of day to assess the impact of variability on the practicality of solar power.
Me 6Students could use secondary data on wave heights collected over time and the t-test to select the best site for harnessing wave power. Data variability could be assessed using standard deviation.

Opportunities to investigate the required sampling techniques of which students must have first hand experience. Further details can be found in Appendix A: Working scientifically

Sampling technique skill numberOpportunities for skills development and independent thinking
ST 1

Students could measure changes in temperature in thermal stores with different heat capacities.

Students could measure variations in wind velocities in selected locations or over time.

Students could use a light meter and parabolic reflector to investigate the effect of cloud cover on light intensity and the limitations of CSP in cloudy conditions.