Energy (PHYS*3080)

Code and section: PHYS*3080*DE

Term: Winter 2016

Instructor: Ralf Gellert


Course Information

Pre-Requisites: IPS*1500 or (PHYS*1000 or PHYS*1080), 1 of (MATH*1000, MATH*1080, MATH*1200), 1 of (IPS*1510, PHYS*1010, PHYS*1070, PHYS*1130)
Co-Requisites: None
Restriction(s): None
Credits: 0.50
Course Website (If applicable): CourseLink
Method of Delivery: Distance Education, Fully Online


Instructor Office Phone Email
Ralf Gellert MACN 450 (519) 824-4120 Ext. 53992

Calendar Description

This course covers energy resources and the production, transmission, interconversion, consumption and waste of energy in the industrial society. Emphasis is placed on environmental impact and human safety. Topics include fossil fuels, nuclear fission and fusion, wind and solar power, the hydrogen economy, and conservation strategies.

Course Description

Energy resources, energy use, and the resulting health and environmental impacts are hotly debated, and deservedly so. But too much of what is said and written, by politicians, by the media, and by advocates of a wide range of alternatives is devoid of any scientific basis, and far too frequently devoid of useful numbers. This reflects a distressingly widespread lack of basic scientific knowledge. This course will build on what you have already learned in first-year university math, physics, and chemistry to develop an understanding of energy basics. The authors hope that the course will enable you to examine critically what you read and hear in the media, to distinguish facts from myths, and to argue intelligently about these incredibly important issues on which society needs to act soon and decisively.

Method of Learning

Physics is about the solving of problems. You learn the concepts, and then you use these concepts to solve problems. Being quantitative is paramount, especially in this course. One cannot have a useful discussion of the huge energy problems that challenge humankind without invoking numbers! How much oil is left? How much radioactive waste is produced by a nuclear reactor? What land area needs to be given up to solar collectors to supply Nevada’s electricity? The course teaches you to answer such questions and provide numbers.

Some students believe that all physics problems are solved by applying standard recipes. This is not true. Mindless substitution in recipes and formulas is not what we are about here.

Admittedly, there can be types of problem where standard procedures are appropriate. But the whole point about Energy is that the issues we face are not standard issues -- they are new issues that demand new thinking. And so our text book presents you with problems that are not of the recipe book type -- problems that do not always involve plugging numbers mindlessly into some formula. In these cases, you have to analyze the situation carefully before you start the solution:

  • ask yourself what concepts must be invoked,
  • what bits of physics must be brought together (perhaps from different sections of the book),
  • what is a logical way to think through the challenge in front of you,
  • and what “tools” are at your disposal?

Of course, all this is exactly what happens in real life! Finally, ask if the answer you eventually obtain is reasonable? If you calculate that the amount of coal required to feed a power station for a year is 4 times the mass of the Moon, then you know something is wrong. As we work through the units, we will stress the different tools that they provide for problem-solving.

In the classroom version of this course, students can get together to argue about the problems and how to solve them. This is an effective means of learning, and so we try to facilitate something similar here by having a discussion area called “Coffee Shop” where you may chat among yourselves. The instructor will not eavesdrop on these discussions. If a discussion leads you to have somebody seek help from the instructor, the instructor may respond by providing advice to the entire class via the Main Class discussion area.

Help in Problem-solving

In many of the units, you will find solved problems of two types:

  • Socratic problem solutions (SPS) offer you the chance to solve the problem, giving you guidance and re-directing you when you go wrong.
  • Voice-over solutions show you printed solutions, with the instructor describing how each line of the solution is derived. In both approaches, you can stop to think, and the problem will wait for you. You can also work through the problems as many times as you need, always at your own speed.

Course Structure

The course has 13 units, whose subject matter is as follows:

Unit 01 – Elementary physics, units, energy consumption, fossil fuels and resource modeling

  • Forms of energy and energy units
  • Sources of energy
  • Energy consumption
  • Modeling fossil fuel resources and consumption

Unit 02 – Heat and Thermodynamics

  • Temperature, thermal energy, specific and latent heat
  • Laws of thermodynamics
  • Heat engines (refrigerators, heat pumps, air conditioners)

Unit 03 – Health and environmental impacts of fossil fuels

  • Extraction, transport and refining
  • Thermal pollution
  • Air pollution and human health

Unit 04 – Electromagnetic radiation and the greenhouse effect

  • Electromagnetic waves, the electromagnetic spectrum, black-body radiation
  • Solar radiation and energy balance in Earth’s atmosphere
  • The Greenhouse Effect and human-induced change

Unit 05 – Electricity I

  • Charge, current and potential (revision)
  • Resistance, resistivity and DC circuits
  • Electric power
  • Batteries and fuel cells

Unit 06 – Electricity II

  • Natural magnetism, electromagnetism, induction
  • Generation and transmission of AC power
  • Meeting electrical demand
  • Transmission technologies
  • Health effects of electromagnetic fields
  • Hydroelectricity and the environment

Unit 07 - Nuclear physics

  • Structure and stability of atomic nuclei
  • Radioactivity
  • Nuclear reactions
  • Binding energy of nuclei
  • Nuclear fission

Unit 08 – Nuclear energy I

  • Nuclear power reactors in the 20th century
  • Reactor control and safety issues
  • The nuclear fuel cycle and uranium resources

Unit 09 – Nuclear energy II

  • Health effects of radiation
  • Environmental impacts of nuclear power
  • Reactor accidents
  • Innovative 21st century reactor designs

Unit 10 - Renewable energy I

  • Wind energy
  • Tidal energy
  • Wave energy
  • Geothermal energy

Unit 11 - Renewable energy II

  • Solar energy, small-scale and large-scale
  • Biomass energy

Unit 12 – Energy use and new technologies

  • Energy transfer and building insulation
  • Improved efficiency in the residential and commercial sectors
  • Conservation in industry and co-generation
  • Energy storage issues
  • The hydrogen economy
  • Carbon dioxide sequestration

Unit 13 – The automobile

  • Thermodynamics and efficiency of the conventional auto engine
  • Electric automobile, batteries and fuel cells
  • Hybrids

Learning Resources

Required Textbook(s)

Title: Energy, Physics and the Environment
Author(s): E.L. McFarland, J. L. Hunt & J.L. Campbell
Edition / Year: 3rd Edition
Publisher: Nelson Education; Toronto
ISBN: 9781426624339

You may purchase the textbook(s) at the University of Guelph Bookstore or the Guelph Campus Co-op Bookstore.


Schedule: Week 1

Unit 01: Elementary Physics, Units, Energy Consumption, Fossil Fuels and Resource Modeling

  • A. Sources of Energy
    Read: Sections 1-1 to 1-2
  • B: Units of Energy and Power
    Read: Sections 1.3 and 1.5
    Exercises:1-1 to 1-7
    Activities: SPS Problem 1-9
    Problems 1-8 and 1-10
  • C: Energy Consumption (Recent and Present)
    Read: Sections 1-4, 1-6, and 2-1
    Activities: Use data sources to check entries figure 2-1 and extend figure 2-2
  • D: Simple Models of Future Energy Consumption
    Read: Sections 2.2 to 2.7
    Activities: Work through Examples 2-1 to 2-5
    Exercises: 2-1 to 2-5
    Problems: 2-6 to 2-9
  • E: Hubbert’s Model of Resource Production and Consumption
    Read: Sections 3-1, 3-2, remainder of chapter 3, remainder of supplement
    Activities: Work through examples 3-1 and 3-2
    Problems: 3-3 to 3-5

Schedule: Week 2

Unit 02: Heat and Thermodynamics

  • A. Temperature and Specific Heat
    Read: Section 4.1 to Table 4-1
    Activities: Watch two short films on Charles Law and calculate the specific heat of water
  • B. Latent Heat
    Activities: Watch videos: 1) The Latent Heat of Vaporization of water, and 2) The Latent Heat of Fusion of Ice
    Problem: 4-2
  • C. Thermodynamics
    Activity: Watch video the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics
    Read: Section 4.3, 4.4, 4.5
    Problems: 4-3, 4-8, 4-9, 4-17
  • D. Heat Engines and Refrigerators
    Read: Section 4.6, 4.7, 4.8, 4.9
    Activity: Solution with commentary: problem 4-9 on page 4-19 of textbook.
    Problems: 4-4 to 7, 4-10, 4-11, 4-13, 4-15, 4-17
    Activity: SPS Problem 4-16

Schedule: Week 3

Unit 03: Health and Environmental Impacts of Fossil Fuels

Submit Assignment 1

  • A. Extraction, Transport, and Refining
    Read: Section 5.1
  • B. Thermal Pollution of Water Bodies
    Read: Sections 5.2, 5.3
    Activity: Solution with commentary: Problem 5-10
    Problems: 5-1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12
    Activity: SPS Problem: 5-13
  • C. Air Pollution
    Read: Section 5.4
    Read: United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards website
    Read: Environment Canada’s website listing annual emissions of the major air pollutants by province and for the country as a whole and Criteria Air Contaminants (National: 1985-2009
    Problems: 5-3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16
  • D. Impacts of Air Pollution on Human Health
    Read: Section 5.5 and the relevant portion of the Supplement
  • E. Reduction of Air Pollution
    Read: Section 5.6 and the Clean Air Act of 1974 plus subsequent additions from the USEPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards website

Schedule: Week 4

Unit 04: Electromagnetic Radiation and the Greenhouse Effect

  • A. The Electromagnetic Spectrum and the Inverse Square Law
    Read: Sections 6.1 and 6-2
    Activities: SPS Problem: 6-6, 10
    Problems: 6-1 to 3, 6-6 to 6-8
  • B. Blackbody Radiation, Stefan’s and Planck’s Laws and the Radiation from the Sun
    Read: Section 6.3 and 6.4
    Problems: 6-4, 6-5, 6-9, 6-10 to 6-16
  • C. The Earth’s Greenhouse Effect
    Read: Section 6.5 to 6.8
    Activity: Solution with commentary: Problem 6-17
    Problems: 6-18 to 19
    Activity: Go to and search for videos under the category "Greenhouse effect". Play any of them you like and see how many mistakes there are in the explanations.
  • D. Long-Term Consequences of the Greenhouse Effect
    Read: Sections 6.9 and 6.10

Schedule: Week 5

Unit 05: Electricity I

Submit Assignment 2

  • A. Electric Charge and Current
    Read: Sections 7.1 and 7-2
    Problems: 7-6 to 7-7
  • B. Electric Potential Energy and Potential
    Read: Section 7.3
    Problems: 7-1 to 7-5
  • C. Electric Current, Resistance, and Resistivity
    Read: Section 7.4
    Activity: Use applet that illustrates the difference between resistance and resistivity.
    Problem: 7-10
  • D. Simple Electric Circuits and Resistor Combination Rules
    Read: Section 7.5
    Sample Problem: 7-5
    Problems: 7-8, 11, 12, 15
  • E. Electric Power
    Read: Section 7.6
    Sample Problem: 7-8 is particularly important.
    Activity: SPS Problem 7-16
    Activity: Solution with commentary Problem 7-18
    Problems: 7-9, 13, 14, 16 to 21.
  • F. Batteries and Fuel Cells
    Read: Text: Section 7.7
    Problems: 7-22
    Activity: Learn How Fuel Cells Work

Schedule: Week 6

Unit 06: Electricity II

  • A. Magnetism and Electromagnetism
    Read: Sections 8.1 and 8.2
    Problems: 8-1 and 8-2
  • B: Electromagnetic Induction
    Worked Example 8-2
    Read: Section 8.3
    Problems: 8-3, 8-10 to 8-12
    Activity: Use applet about the Magnetic (or Lorentz) force.
    Activity: Use applet about how the Lorentz force is arranged to make a DC motor.
  • C. Electric Current, Resistance, and Resistivity
    Read: Section 8.4, 8.5 and 8.6
    Problems: 8-4 to 8-9 and 8-13 to 8-15
    Activity: An SPS activity on RMS values
  • D. Commercial Electricity
    Read: Chapter 9
    Problems: 9-1, 9-2

Schedule: Week 7

Unit 07: Nuclear Physics

Submit Assignment 2

  • A. Structure and Stability of Atomic Nuclei
    Read: Sections 10.1 – 10.3
    Exercises: 10-2, 10-3, 10-4
  • B: Radioactivity
    Read: Section 10.4,10.5
    Work Through: Examples 10-1 to 10-3
    Activity: Problem solution with commentary: Problem 10-9
    Exercises: 10-5 and 10-6.
    Problems: 10-8 to 10-13, and 10-15. Skip 10-14.
    Activity: SPS Problem 10-10
  • C. Nuclear Reactions
    Read: Section 10.6
    Work Through: Example 10-4
    Exercises: 10-1 and 10-7
    Activity: SPS Problem 10-16
  • D. Nuclear Binding Energy
    Read: Section 10.7
    Work Through: Example 10-5
    Problems: 10-17 through 10-23
  • E. Nuclear Fission
    Watch: YouTube animation “Fission and fusion”
    Read: Section 10.8
    Work Through: Example 10-7

Schedule: Week 8

Unit 08: Nuclear Energy I

  • A. The Three Basic Components of a Nuclear Reactor
    Read: Section 11.1 and supplement this via the website of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA)
  • B. Light Water Reactors
    Read: Section 11.2, and again, supplement the textbook via the CNA website; navigate as above but finally choose “Major reactor types”.
    Watch: Two YouTube videos: a) “How a nuclear reactor works” from Equinox Graphics, and b) “Pressurised water reactor” by mckuyver
  • C. Heavy Water Reactors
    Read: Section 11.3 and supplement with the CNA website; navigate as above but choose “The Candu reactor”.
  • D. Radio Activity
    Read: Section 11.4 and supplement this via the CNA website; navigate as above but choose “Major reactor types”
  • E. Breeder Reactors
    Read: Section 11.5
  • F. Reactor Control and Stability
    Read: Section 11.6 and the link provided
    Problem: 11-1
  • G. Reactor Safety
    Read: Section 11.7
    Activity: Click link to see if you can run the Chernobyl Reactor.
  • H. Uranium Resources
    Read: Section 11.8 and the World Nuclear Association website for a 2009 overview using data from the international Energy Agency
  • I. The Nuclear Fuel Cycle
    Read: Section 11.9 and the website of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA).
    Problems: 11-2 through 11-8.
    Activity: Solution with commentary: Problem 11-2

Schedule: Week 9

Unit 09: Nuclear Energy II

Submit Assignment 4

  • A. Radiation Transport and Radiation Protection
    Read: Section 12.1
    Problems: 12-1, 12-2, 12-3, 12-4
  • B. Radiation Sources and Radiation Dose
    Read: Sections 12.2 through 12.4 plus Supplementary PDF
    Activity: Solution with commentary: Problem 12-6
    Problems: 12-5, 12-6, 12-7
  • C. Effects of Nuclear Radiation on Human Health
    Read: Section 12.5 plus Supplementary PDF
    Problems: 12-8, 12-9, 12-10
  • D. Uranium Mining and Processing
    Read: Section 12.6 plus supplement this via the website of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA)
    Click on Educational Resources, then on Nuclear Technology at Work, then on both “Uranium Mining” and “Uranium Processing”.
    Problem: 12-11
  • E. Reactor Emissions and Long-Term Waste
    Read: Section 12.7 plus supplement this via the website of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA).
    Problem: 12-12
  • F. Nuclear Accidents: Reasons and Consequences
    Read: Section 12.8 plus the IAEA’s report on the health and environmental; consequences of Chernobyl
  • G. The End of the First Nuclear Era
    Read: Section 13.1 plus consult this list from the World Nuclear Association to see in more detail which countries are operating reactors or constructing/planning new ones.
  • H. Generation 3: Improved Operating, Better Safety
    Read: Section 13.2 plus look at this example of these new passive safety features.
  • I. Large Generation 3 Reactors
    Read: Section 13.3
  • J. Small Generation 3 Reactors - A New Concept – The Pebble-Bed Reactor
    Read: Section 13.4
  • K. New Ventures with Breeder Reactors
    Read: Section 13.5
  • L. Spent Fuel – Store It or Re-Process It?
    Read: Section 13.6 plus Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) website
    Read: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report (2003) website, along with an update produced in 2009.

Schedule: Week 10

Unit 10: Renewable Energy I

  • A. Introduction to Wind Energy
    Read: Sections 6.1 and 6-2
  • B. The Basic Physics of Wind Turbines
    Read: Text: Sections 14.2, 14.3
    Read: Wind Supplement, (pages 1 and 2)
    Exercise: Work through Example 14-1
  • C. Wind: Location, Location, Location
    Read: Section 14.4 – about wind speeds and the Weibull Distribution.
    Read: Wind Supplement sections on wind speed and direction.
    Read: The Wind Rose website
    Exercises and Problem: Exercises 14-1 and 14-3, and Problem 14-4
  • D. Wind: Modern Design, Environmental Issues
    Read: Sections 14.7 and 14.8 plus the Wind Supplement
  • E. Wind: Progress, Costs and Problems
    Read: Sections 6.1 and 6-2
  • F. Tidal Energy
    Read: Section 14.9 plus the website of the Marine Current Turbines company
    Problem: 14-5
  • G. Wave Energy
    Read: Section 14.10 and the website of the United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
  • H. Geothermal Energy
    Read: Section 14-11
    Read: Geothermal Power Supplement
    Problem: 4-2

Schedule: Week 11

Unit 11: Renewable Energy II

  • A. Introduction to Solar Energy
    Read: Section 15.1
    Refresh: Sections 6.5 – 6.7
    Exercise: See details in course website
    Read: Fixed Collector link
  • B. Small-Scale Direct Collection of Solar Energy
    Read: Section 15.2. Augment this via the McGill University School of Architecture website.
    Exercise: Work through example 15-2
    Problems: 15-4 through 15-7.
  • C. Large-Scale Direct Collection of Solar Energy
    Read: Section 15.3.
    Read: Solar supplement to learn about recent advances in large distributed solar collector plants.
    Watch: A short movie from the Acciona corporation that helps you understand how the Nevada Solar One plant works.
    Watch: Short video on Nevada Solar One
    Activity: Here is a problem as an SPS activity: Problem 15-3
  • D. Direct Conversion of Solar Energy to Electricity
    Read: Section 15.4 plus Solar supplement
    Read: Description of the large Amareleja solar photo-voltaic plant in Portugal.
    Problem: 15-2
  • E. Biomass
    Read: Section 15.5 plus the Biomass Supplement.
    Activity: Watch problem 15-5 solution with commentary

Schedule: Week 12

Unit 12: Energy Use and New Technologies

Submit Assignment 5

  • A. Heat Transfer by Conduction
    Read: Text: Section 16.1 and 16.2.
    Activity: Watch a short video that uses Equation. 16-2 to measure the thermal conductivity of copper.
    Problems: 16-1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9
  • B. Heat Transfer by Convection and the Conductive-Convective Layer
    Activity: Watch a demonstration of convection in a fluid.
    Read: Section 16.3 and 16.4
    Problems: 16-7, 16-10, 16-11
    Activity: Watch Problem 16-10 solution with commentary.
  • C. Efficiency vs. Conservation
    Read: Section 16.6, 16.7, 16.8, 16.9, 16-10
    Problem: 16-13
  • D. Energy Currencies
    Read: Section 18.1, 18.2
    Problems: 18 -1 to 18-5
  • E. New Technologies
    Read: Section 18.5, 18.6
    Activity: Watch two films

Schedule: Week 13

Unit 13: The Automobile

  • A. The Otto Cycle and Other Cycles
    Read: Section 17.1 up to Eq. [17-4].
    Activity: Use a simulation demonstrating how the Otto Cycle operates.
    Activity: Use a simulation demonstrating how the Diesel Cycle operates.
    Activity: Complete the table about the six episodes in the Otto cycle
    Problems: 17-1 to 17-4
    Explain the meaning of thermal efficiency, fuel input power, indicated power
  • B. Improving the Thermal Efficiency of the Otto Engine
    Read: Section 17-1 from Equation 17-4 to the end. Example 17-1 is particularly important
    Problems: 17-7 to 17-11
    Activity: Problem 17-12 solution with audio commentary:
    Activity: SPS Problem 17-7
  • C. Fuel Combustion and Emission Control
    Read: Section 17-2
    Activity: Watch a video about catalytic converters
  • D. Alternatives to the Fossil Fuelled Engine
    Activity: Watch a video about a steam powered car.
  • E. Storage Batteries and the Electric Carhnologies
    Read: Section 17.3 and 17.4
    Problems: 17-12, 13, and 15.
    Activity: Problem 17-12 solution with audio commentary
    Example problem 17-15
  • F. The Hybrid Car
    Read: Section 17.5 and 17.6
    Refresher: pp 7-13, 14
  • G. Conservation in Transportation
    Read: Section 17.7
    Problems: 17-14

Course Evaluation

The grade determination for this course is indicated in the following table.

Assignments Weight
Written Problem Assignments (5 @ 10%) 50%
Final Examination 50%
Total 100%

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Letter Grade Percentage
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A 85-89
A- 80-84
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C 64-66
C- 60-62
D+ 57-59
D 53-56
D- 50-52
F 0-49

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