Open Engineering
Environment and Development.

Energy without the Mess (CO2 and Oil)

These pages are about the energy problem, policies to deal with it, plans for an energy transition, energy saving and renewables, and possible practical activities. I have tried to include some information of interest to hotter, less industrialised countries (such as Nicaragua, where I once worked) where for example keeping cool may be more important than keeping warm.

Estas páginas tratan del problema de energía, las políticas sobre ello, los planes para una transición energetica, ahorro de energía y energías renovables, y posibles actividades prácticas. He intentado incluir información de interés a países calientes y menos industrializados (como Nicaragua, donde hace tiempo trabajaba) donde por ejemplo enfriamento puede ser más importante que califaxion. [Cambia a la versión en ESPANOL]

The Energy Problem

A great debate about future sources of energy is taking place in most of the countries of the world for three reasons:

  1. Climate Change. The carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by burning coal, natural gas and oil is causing the world to capture more of the sun's heat and warm up (called the 'greenhouse' effect). This is changing the climate and is likely to be highly damaging to ecosystems and world agriculture. It is also causing the polar ice caps to melt - if all of the Antarctic ice cap (which sits on land) were to melt, sea levels could rise by as much as 60 meters, drowning huge areas of land (in Nicaragua the Caribbean and Pacific seas would join and Ometepe would be an island in the sea).

  2. Peak Oil. The world has used up more than half of the total available oil deposits and oil production may be about to peak and then decline as supplies run out. But demand has never been higher: rich countries like the USA, Europe and Japan use huge amounts and industrialising countries like China and India are rapidly increasing the numbers of cars and planes they use. Natural gas is also likely to peak.

  3. Energy Security. Many countries once had their own sources of energy. For example, the UK had coal, oil and gas - but now the national oil and gas fields are declining; coal is still available but it is the worst fuel for producing CO2 and causing climate change. Governments are worried that they are increasingly dependent on imports from far-off countries who may be hostile to them.

Climate Change and Peak Oil are symptoms of the phenominal recent growth in world population and consumption reaching the limits of what the earth can sustain.

On this site there are pages and links on the following themes ...

Energy Policies

This page looks at some of the new laws and financial incentives being put in place to promote a major shift to renewable energy, focussing on examples from the EU (European Community). There are some exciting technical developments too ...

  • Wind - Turbines are growing ever larger (up to about 10MW now). Offshore wind cost is falling and the development of floating wind turbines should permit windfarms in waters to deep for sea-bed mounting.

  • Solar Photovoltaic - Solar PV continues to fall in price and improve in efficiency.

  • Solar CSP - Spain has built a power station that works by mirrors that concentrate the sun's heat to operate conventional steam turbines to drive generators. Morocco is completing the world's largest: the Noor Complex near Ouarzazate. This technology has the advantage that it can use stored heat to continue to operate in the night.

  • Wave - Portugal installed the world's first commercial wave power machines. They capture energy from waves in the sea and turn it into electricity. But this technology remains experimental and challenging.

  • Tidal - A number of tidal turbines have been developed that capture energy from strong tidal currents in the sea. Some sit on the sea bed like an underwater windmill and some float at anchor in the tidal stream like the one pictured (it's not moving, the sea is!).

(1) Concentrating Solar Power in Seville. (2) Pelamis wave energy machine. (3) Scotrenewables tidal turbine.

more ...

Energy Transition Plans

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are developing radical and comprehensive plans on how to transform the way we generate and use energy to produce a low or zero-carbon economy. In some towns, groups of citizens have even launched their own 'Transition Initiatives' to prepare their town for the future

more ...


Many third world countries have no significant reserves of fossil fuels but are rich in potential renewable energy sources. They have the opportunity to take action on climate change and protect itself against future oil price increases - and many have started to do so.

This section will list technologies that could or are being applied, both the big and the little: large scale technologies that require action by government and/or large companies; small systems that could be carried out by a group at a university or individuals.

(1) Windfarm, Costa Rica. (2) Small wind turbine, Nicaragua.

more ...

Practical Activities

This section explores practical activities that could be of interest to students as projects or studies.

more ...

Directory - Links

Climate Change:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Espanol)
The Global Commons Institute has developed and promoted the Contraction and Convergence concept.

Peak Oil:

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas
Crisis Energética
The Coming Global Oil Crisis

Energy Security:

The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security
Oxford Research Group - Secure Energy

Limits to Growth:

'The Limits to Growth' is a book commissioned by the Club of Rome and published in 1972. It predicts the effects of rapidly growing world population and finite resources. An updated version was published in 2004 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company: 'Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update'.

Synopsis of "Limits to Growth, The 30‑Year Update".
Wikipedia entry on 'The Limits to Growth'.
The Club of Rome identifies and analyses problems facing humanity, and researches solutions that would provide alternatives.

Environmental Technology Centres:

CAT is an environmental centre in Wales that has published a plan 'zerocarbonbritain' for how Britain could eliminate carbon emissions.
The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is an independent, nonprofit organization that fosters the efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, just, prosperous, and life-sustaining.
The UK Building Research Centre (BRE). The BRE Innovation Park gives a glimpse of how the future delivery of sustainable buildings and communities can be achieved not only in the UK but around the world.
Practical Action is a development charity that works with poor people to develop the skills and technology that will enable them to build a better future. It provides advice and publishes information about appropriate technologies.

Environmental Wikis / Websites:

Appropedia is "the site for collaborative solutions in sustainability, poverty reduction and international development through the use of appropriate technology and the sharing of project information". It is a wiki, a type of website which allows anyone to add, remove, or edit content.
Ekopedia is a "practical encyclopedia about alternative life techniques". Few articles at present but may grow.
Our Future Planet - "an innovative website and online community that inspires citizens through the global sharing of knowledge and networks". New site, few articles at present.

Architecture, Low-Energy / Green Buildings, Naturally-Cooled Buildings:

Build It Solar - Passive Cooling: a good list of links on passive and active cooling techniques. [English]
Beating the Heat examines climate change impacts by region, building type, form and fabric, and looks at how designers will need to adapt their understanding of building performance to provide thermal comfort in the future, considering both traditional 'passive' and mechanical cooling measures. The report is aimed at the UK but contains useful information about natural cooling. [English]
EPBD Buildings Platform: an information resource on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive of the European Union. [English, Spanish and other languages.]
Inbuilt: a UK consultancy specialising in the research, design and delivery of sustainable built environments. [English]
Passive Low Energy Cooling of Buildings by Baruch Givoni [English]
Passive cooling methods for energy efficient buildings with and without thermal energy storage – A review [English]
Heating and Natural Cooling of Buildings from [English]
ZEDfactory: a UK architecture company that designs and builds energy efficient buildings of all types and sizes. [English]

Energy Plans:

DESERTEC - Summary of the Concept & the Studies describes how to supply Europe's electricity using solar energy from Southern Europe and the deserts of North Africa. [Several Languages]

zerocarbonbritain: a plan for how Britain could eliminate carbon emissions. [English]

Sustainable Energy - without the hot air: this book estimates the potential of renewable energy sources to cover current demand in the UK, Europe and the World. Excellent in its level of detail. However: the assumption that current levels of energy use should and will be maintained might be questionable; the sections on nuclear energy seem to be based on the nuclear industry's figures and could take more account of weapons-proliferation and long-term safety. The author has generously made this available for free download. [English]

Resources for Schools

Wind with Miller: Climb a wind turbine with Miller! This animated website, Wind with Miller, is suitable for children of all ages. It is the fast and fun way to get an intuitive grasp of advanced wind power knowledge. Produced by the Danish Wind Industry Association in 2001, it also contains a number of educational practical activities and a teacher's guide.

Wind Power Booklets for Key Stages 1-4: A resource for teachers for Key stages 1-4, on the BWEA website.

Wavegen - Information for Schools: Shows how to construct a wave generator model that can be demonstrated in a bucket of water.

Energy Slides: Some slides prepared for a primary school class covering sources of energy, and showing conversion from heat energy to mechanical energy to electricity.

Videos on Climate Change

Scientific Evidence for Climate Change

To look into the past, ice cores (cylinders of ice) are drilled out of an ice sheet or glacier, the longest extending to 3km in depth. They contain information about past temperatures, and many other aspects of the environment for up to 800,000 years ago. The ice encloses small bubbles of air that allow measurement of past concentrations of gases (including CO2).

Three videos about ice core research:

  1. Ancient Ice and Our Planet's Future [4.38m]

  2. Life On the Ice [4.23m]

  3. Modeling Our Future Climate [8.43m]

References: NASA; British Antartic Survey.

Videos on Renewable Energy - Solar Power in Spain:

Spain is one of Europe's leaders in the field of renewable energy, having many wind farms and a number of concentrating solar power (CSP) plants that focus the suns rays to generate heat that is used to create steam in an otherwise conventional thermal plant (steam turbines that turn electrical generators).

  1. Desertec Youtube film on Andasol III (English commentary over Spanish and German speakers) [6m]

  2. Stunning solar towers light the way (solar plant near near Seville, a short advert precedes the film.) [11m]

Videos on Renewable Energy - Wind Power:

Spain already gets about 25% of its electricity from wind and Denmark 30%.

  1. Wind Power [3m]

  2. German news site about wind energy


The Maldives will go carbon-neutral within a decade

The Maldives has committed itself to become carbon-neutral within a decade. The measures could virtually eliminate fossil fuel use on the Maldive archipelago by 2020. The plan includes a new renewable electricity generation and transmission infrastructure with 155 large wind turbines, half a square kilometre of rooftop solar panels, and a biomass plant burning coconut husks. The scheme should pay for itself quite quickly, because the Maldives will no longer need to import oil products for electricity generation, transport and other functions. [from: Maldives first to go carbon neutral].

Nicaragua gets its first Windfarm

Investors from Nicaragua, Guatemala and the USA are completing the first windfarm in Nicaragua. The windfarm, called Parque Eólico Amayo, is 128 kilometers south of the capital in part of the province of Rivas where there are strong and constant winds for most of the year.

El Hierro in the Canary Islands switches to entirely renewable energy

Within the next year, the Spanish island of El Hierro (population 10,000) hopes to become completely energy independent. A variety of renewable energy systems are being used, including wind, hydroelectric and solar. They also plan to implement hydrogen cars and ban oil completely from the island.