Month: August 2023

An Engineering Module on Energy & Sustainability

This Education for Sustainability case study is from Claire Lucas, Professor of Engineering Teaching and Learning at King’s. As well as time in industry, Claire has taken a national role in Engineering education, including as a QAA subject specialist and deputy chair of the 2022 subject benchmark statement review for Engineering. Here she discusses Energy & Sustainability 4CCE1SUS, a core module all new Electronic Engineering and General Engineering students take in the first semester of their first year.

“Students learn that Engineering is about compromise rather than making the most efficient thing possible, and that historically the compromise has been one way.”

Sustainable development goals addressed Sustainability competencies addressed
7. Affordable and clean energy.

9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure.

Integrated problem solving. Students work on energy problems in realistic settings such as transport or buildings.

Collaboration. Students undertake problem-based learning in groups using formal decision-making approaches.

Systems thinking. Students use tools to analyse emerging and interactive behaviour.

Normative competency. Alongside their quantitative methods students develop judgement to balance competing priorities.

What is the purpose of your module and why is sustainability important to it?

Often at the start of their degree, Engineering students have a classical Engineering science module. With our module we want to make it really obvious from the start that Engineering science and sustainability are intrinsically linked. For example, when you learn about thermodynamics (the interaction of temperature and air movement) in the lab you learn how the internal combustion engine or ram pump relate to thermodynamics and ultimately to global warming – which itself is a thermodynamic process.

How do you bring together sustainability and disciplinary learning?

We have a competency framework with some overlap with the ESD competencies – systems thinking, for example, which we take to be understanding emerging and interactive behaviour. In the first year of Engineering, the functional competency is to apply methods to solve broadly-defined problems, and the non-functional competencies are self-awareness, ability to reflect, cultural competency and creative thinking. Different parts of the degree address different competencies.

The first half of the module is the science and lab part where students learn about mechanical, electrical, thermal and fluid energy. We’re showing that, say, fluid flowing round pipes follows the same principles as electricity flowing round a circuit or heat flowing round your house. We have five labs where they analyse these principles in action. One of those labs is an internal combustion engine where they learn about chemical heat process, thermodynamics and fluid dynamics. The reason we have that – and it might seem really old-fashioned – is that at this early stage, students don’t have the material science knowledge to understand the complex electrical machines that power a wind turbine, but taking an internal combustion engine apart and putting it back together is a really good way to learn about the interactions between mechanical, electrical, chemical and thermal energy – and in the process how much energy is wasted as heat and pollution.

The labs are interesting because as well as the standard activities like learning to write a lab report, we also want them to start thinking experimentally as early as possible, so that they can validate their decisions and their models. So when they learn how to operate a piece of equipment, we are also scaffolding their thinking about what that equipment could validate. All of this prepares them for the science of sustainability in their Materials module – that’s where they’ll start using formal tools to analyse supply chains and lifecycles.

Then the second half of the module is Problem-Based Learning (PBL) to demonstrate why the science and labs are relevant. The groups need put their maths so far into practice to take a sustainability perspective on modelling realistic cases like buildings or vehicles. Students learn that Engineering is about compromise rather than making the most efficient thing possible, and that historically the compromise has been one way.

How do you assess the learning?

One element is PBL group coursework. That exists to show students that sustainability is something you can quantify and evaluate, and that you can use Engineering science to do that. They take an energy model of a building or a vehicle and carry out a lifecycle analysis. They use their maths so far to design an energy system to meet the demands of normal use – we give some datasets on this – and protect the environment by maximising efficiency, minimising pollution, or being responsive to changing energy demands. We’ve decided to give a group mark for this module rather than an individually differentiated mark.

For these first years we pitch the problem carefully so they’re working on something new rather than retrofitting an existing site – that way we can manage the systems thinking complexity based on what they know at this early stage. One option they have is a tender for a greenfield house building scheme and the other is a tender for new buses. There’s always a business-as-usual baseline which they use their creativity to improve on. They explain their criteria, they use their maths to do the modelling. We also ask them to write an individual reflective statement where they respond to prompts about what they learned and the kinds of problems they faced. That helps develop self-awareness.

The other assessments are individual coursework on the labs (30%) and an exam on the scientific knowledge (40%), which is fairly typical for this kind of course.

What support do students need?

We spend a lot of time scaffolding the skills students will need for group work. We explicitly give students approaches to teamwork, negotiation, and decision making with formal decision-making comparison tools like pugh matrices and multi-criteria analysis graphs. It’s about evidence for the decision rather than the person who is the strongest leader winning – we doing all we can to help students keep an open mind about group work and avoid settling into fixed roles early on. We timetable the PBL group work and observe attendance, and in the following semester we give each student a specific role within their groups.

We see this group work scaffolding as just as important as learning how to use a piece of equipment to take measurements in a lab. Students often arrive with habits of keeping their ideas secret. We say that we’re not looking for the Dragon’s Den person who ‘wins’ and actually, winning is sometimes about losing your idea or bringing it into the open so it can be iterated and improved. The way we put it is that to be truly excellent you have to help others to be excellent.

I mentioned already that we manage complexity for students based on their level of learning. We don’t do complex systems without systems boundaries until Level 6 or 7. This is why we give first years the problem of designing a new system from a blank slate – it means they’re thinking about conflicting requirements, which is a kind of systems thinking, but with a lot less complexity than retrofitting a system that already exists, like the existing London transport network, or existing buildings. This is because retrospectively adapting existing systems in the real world is often a matter of iterating based on a restricted number of leverage points which as a systems thinking problem is often really challenging.

But ultimately students do need to be able to claim that systems thinking competency, so this first year problem is the start of a thread that students follow throughout the degree. When they revisit it in their third year Energy Generation and Storage module, this time the constraints are removed, they gather their own data, the models are more complex because the systems already exists, and the techno-economical and lifecycle aspects are present.

One thing I often wonder about is how much to explain to students about why something is important without making them sick of the framing. We spend a lot of time justifying why we teach what we teach in the way we teach it, and it sometimes comes out in students’ reflections that they would rather just get on with the project. I sometimes wonder if women spend more time defending their decisions, and whether if we didn’t it would make a difference. But on the other hand, there are good pedagogical reasons to do it and it gives students a chance to criticise the approach.

What benefits have you seen?

The labs mean that students are generally well-prepared for the second semester. They have a good understanding of engineering as multidisciplinary and can start to take different perspectives and recognise commonalities between problems in other disciplines. Typically this group project is not successful, and that’s why it exists – it’s there to shake things out a bit and give us a chance to observe the cohort ready for the next semester when the group project is higher stakes.

Students learn that sustainability needs both Engineering science and qualitative judgement. They learn that sustainability does have a cost, and Engineering science can be used to bring  quantitative sustainability equations to negotiating balanced outcomes between competing priorities. They get an introduction to some approaches and tools for that analysis, and they start learning how to reflect on their own contributions, roles and strengths.

Do you have any suggestions?

We’re talking here about a single module, but we don’t think it is possible to fully develop the sustainability competencies in just one module and it would be a mistake to try to put everything students need to know about sustainability into a single module. So we are separating the sustainability science from the sustainability competencies, and mapping the competencies out across the degree so we can reinforce them all the way through.

I really recommend to anyone to make a table for their discipline where they set out the knowledge students will learn but also the corresponding skills which help them learn really well and become great mathematicians, historian or lawyers. And then to think about whether some sustainability competencies are more advanced and cognitively challenging than others, and how to develop them.

Sustainability at Welcome to King’s September 2023

Are you interested in all things sustainable and making a positive impact whilst at King’s? This Welcome Fortnight, the Sustainability team have prepared an exciting range of events for you to learn more about climate and sustainability. Check them out below. You can also find us at various hubs, fairs and inductions – come have a chat!

Introduction to sustainability and climate action at King’s 11/09/2023, 14:00-15:00 Microsoft Teams Are you passionate about sustainability and making a difference? What action is King’s taking on the climate crisis? How can you take individual and collective climate action while at King’s?

Join the King’s Climate & Sustainability Team to learn more about what King’s is doing around sustainability and climate action, and how you can get involved.

How to be sustainable in London 13/09/2023, 14:00-15:00 Microsoft Teams Do you care about sustainability but not sure where to start? Join this session to hear some useful tips from the King’s Climate & Sustainability Team on how to be more sustainable – and possibly even save some money!
Explore King’s campuses and try a bike for free 18/09/2023, 16:00-19:00 (time change) Meet at Swapfiets (E1 6LT) Want to get to know King’s campuses? Want to save money and get active? Unsure about cycling in the city?

Cycling is a great way to get active and to get around London. However, it can be scary in London with lots of other traffic on the roads.

Join this guided cycle tour around King’s campuses led by King’s Cycling Club. Bikes will be provided FREE of charge by Swapfiets for the afternoon and you’ll learn the rules of the road and tips for staying safe whilst cycling. The tour will start at the Swapfiets store so that you can pick your own bike (including e-bikes) and will take 2-2.5 hours including a coffee break.

Great way to meet new people!

How to champion sustainability in King’s labs 19/09/2023, 14:00-16:00 Meet at Guy’s Memorial Arch Join this session to learn more about sustainable labs at King’s!

Labs are extremely energy and resource intensive, so you’ll hear about what labs at King’s are doing on their sustainability journey. You’ll explore why lab sustainability is important, while also experiencing a guided tour of two labs to see what they’re doing.

There will be lots of space for questions with lab sustainability champions, and you’ll hear more about how you can get involved!

Building and connecting King’s climate communities 21/09/2023, 15:00-17:00 Macadam Building 4.2 (Strand Campus) Join us in exploring ways to change the world during your time at King’s! We’ll be tackling the UN Sustainable Development Goals through collective action.

We’ll get creative and listen to YOU – what are your priorities? What would you like to see King’s do? We’ll provide a range of creative prompts and art supplies to help you collaboratively create solutions to some of the biggest climate and sustainability challenges.

You’ll get to know other fellow students and passionate staff teams, think about social and environmental impact, and work together to shape the future direction of the King’s Climate & Sustainability team.

Snacks, refreshments & supplies will be provided!

Have a look at how you can get involved with King’s Sustainability. Make a difference during your time at King’s!

How to register

  1. You’ll need to download the Welcome to King’s app from the App store (you can download onto iOS and Android.)
  2. ​​​​​​You’ll need to download the Welcome to King’s Guide for all information for new students. To access this guide, you’ll need to enter our passphrase reggielion23 (no spaces)
    • The Welcome to King’s Guide will be the first stage of welcoming you into university, offering a range of information from ID card collection to new opportunities at King’s.
  3. ​​​​​When you’ve downloaded the Welcome at King’s app, you will need to create an account; we advise that you use your King’s email address to create an account. ​​​​​​
  4. Once you’ve set up your account, allow ‘push notifications’ on your device, so you can receive important messages.
  5. Go to Welcome Events & Workshops and scroll down to “Climate & Sustainability”
  6. Check out our events across the two weeks and register by clicking “+”

King’s progress in responsible investment

The Ethical Investment Policy commits King’s to making no direct investments in tobacco, divesting from all fossil fuel investments and investing 40 per cent of its funds in investments with socially responsible benefits by 2025.

In 2021, King’s fully divested from fossil fuels almost two years ahead of target and since 2023, armaments are also excluded from investments. King’s conducts ethical screening for cash deposits, which excludes companies that generate over 10% of their turnover from armament, tobacco and/or fossil fuels.

In 2022–23, we also met our commitment to invest 40 per cent of funds in investments with a positive purpose two years early and King’s only purchases green bonds to raise debt. We have invested £44 million in the Northern Trust’s World Green Transition Index Fund, which not only screens out fossil fuel producers and the worst 10 per cent of companies by carbon emissions intensity but also has a positive ‘tilt’ towards companies that generate ‘green’ revenue, such as energy efficiency and alternative energy. We also have £14 million invested in RobecoSAM’s Sustainable Water Strategy, which invests in companies with innovative technologies and products across the water value chain that will help deal with the issue of water scarcity. During the year, £10 million was invested in the Polar Capital Smart Energy Fund, which invests in companies involved with clean power distribution, energy transmission and distribution, energy conversion and storage, and energy efficiency. £8 million was also invested in the GMO Climate Change Select Investment Fund, which invests in companies dealing with clean energy, batteries and storage, electric grid and energy efficiency.

The Ethical Investment Policy is due to be reviewed in 2023–24, which will provide an opportunity to work with the Finance Team to set new targets and further embed responsible investment principles in our policy.