Learn about different energy sources, theory and practice of creating, storing and using more environmentally friendly forms of energy.

Course Code: VSS102
Fee Code: S1
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Study Alternative Energy and Power Supply Options 

  • Self paced distance education course
  • Learn to compare options and choose a sustainable power supply system for home, office or commerce.
  • Understand the theory of electricity, the equipment and systems used to generate and store electricity, and how to deliver an electricity supply from an alternative energy source

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction: The Problems and the Energy Sources.
  2. Understanding Energy
  3. Generating Electricity
  4. Storage and Using Electricity
  5. Non-Electric Systems
  6. Energy Consumption
  7. Energy Conservation
  8. Converting to Alternative Systems


  • Describe the nature and scope of alternative energy.
  • Describe the nature and application of electricity.
  • Compare different methods of generating electricity
  • Compare different techniques for storage and use of electricity.
  • Describe the application and operation of different non electric energy systems
  • Identify ways to better manage energy consumption.
  • Describe energy conservation techniques.
  • Discuss how to convert a building’s energy supply to an alternative system.

What You Will Do

  • List different insulating materials which may be commonly found inside electrical equipment?
  • Determine a practical example to show the relevance of each of Kirchoff's Laws to a technician, in their daily work?
  • Contact a number of suppliers of alternative energy generating systems (e.g. wind, solar). Find out all that you can about the types of systems they supply. Collect any relevant leaflets and brochures. If possible observe such systems in action.
  • Design a floor plan and describe the current electricity use of a home which you are familiar with (but which uses only mains power supply).
  • This might be the home of a friend, relative, or even your own home.
  • Recommend ways in which this home might reduce reliability on mains supply (either in part or full) by introducing its own electricity generation system
  • Compare the relative significance of alternative sources of energy including wind, solar, fossil fuels, hydro, etc.
  • Explain electricity, including its nature, terminology and options for applying it as an energy source
  • Explain the generation of electricity through a variety of means including: Photo voltaic cells, Wind powered generators, Petrol powered generators and Batteries.
  • Describe procedures for appropriate use of electricity, including storage and safety
  • Develop ways of reducing energy consumption, including effective temperature control.
  • Evaluate a building and recommend appropriate measures for minimising it's consumption of energy.
  • Identify the restrictions or regulations which can affect the adoption of more appropriate energy applications for a specific property.
  • Plan the conversion of a property from high energy consumption systems to an appropriate network of sustainable and lower energy consumption systems

How to Generate Electricity?
There are many different ways, including: a chemical reaction, the sun's energy or by physical methods, for example:
Turbines and Generators
Turbines are made up of a set of blades or cups (impellers) and an axle which are caused to rotate rapidly by the action of a physical or mechanical force such as wind, water or steam. The turbine axle is connected to a generator and the inner section of the generator is also caused to rotate. This inner section contains a magnet with a strong magnetic force. Around this magnet is a large coil of wire which is connected at each end to an electrical system (solenoid). A very important natural effect is brought into action when the magnet rapidly spins near the wire coil: an electrical current is induced (this is somewhat like static electricity from a balloon causing hair to rise, even though the balloon is not touching the hair). The induced current will be AC voltage due to the spinning causing the voltage to rise and fall with each rotation. If the magnet is rotated at 50 revolutions per second (i.e. 3000 rpm) the frequency will be the same as that of mains electricity, 50 Hertz. In practice, the production of electricity by generators is more complicated, but the principles are the same.
This electricity is generated at power stations, most commonly through the heat of uranium break-down or burning fuel (e.g. coal). The heat is used to boil water, producing steam under pressure which spins the turbines. More simply, wind energy, the flow of water in a river or from a dam (i.e. hydro electricity) can be harnessed to spin the turbines.
Windmills and small-scale hydro systems are self-contained systems which trap natural mechanical energy and convert it to electrical energy. These can be operated independently of the mains electricity supply or as a supplement. Portable petrol or diesel generators may be hired or purchased to be used in similar way. They are useful in isolated situations or during power strikes.
Fuel Cells
As we have already discussed batteries (chemical reaction) can range from small torch batteries to large vehicle or industrial batteries. One advantage is that they can be used in remote situations or when a mains supply is unavailable. Batteries generate electricity by a chemical reaction which slowly occurs between layers of different chemicals encased in the battery. As the reaction takes place, electrons are released allowing them to move and create an electrical flow or current. Unlike turbine generated electricity which is AC voltage, battery power is DC voltage. That is because it is produced by a continuous, even source.
Primary batteries are non-rechargeable. When the chemical reaction is completed, the battery is finished. However, secondary batteries can be discharged and recharged again. The recharging occurs when electrical energy is fed back into the battery and reverses the chemical reaction. The two main types of rechargeable are Lead-Acid batteries which are cheap and used in cars; and Nickel-Cadmium batteries which are expensive and long-lasting.
Understand the Terminology
Alternative Energy: is commonly defined as energy that is generated from non fossil fuel resources and that does not harm the environment. Generally speaking nuclear energy is not included.
Renewable Energy: is energy from sources that are naturally replenished such as solar, wind, wave/tidal, hydroelectric, biofuels and geothermal energy.
Solar Energy: is energy from the sun’s solar radiation and can be divided into passive (no mechanical devices) and active solar energy (such as photovoltaics).
Wind Energy: is energy from the conversion of wind to electricity by a wind turbine.
Hydropower Energy: is energy generated by moving water, commonly from waterwheels, hydroelectric dams but also from tides and more.
Biofuels: are fuels generated from plant biomass, including bio-diesel and ethanol.
Geothermal Energy: is energy derived from the heat of the Earth’s core.
Electricity: energy that is the flow of electrons through a circuit, it may be produced by several different means including chemically and electrostatically.
Cell: a unit that produces electrical energy by chemical reactions. A battery is simply a series of cells.
AC/DC: AC = alternating current. This means that the current flows in alternating directions
DC = direct current. This means that the current flows only in a single direction.
Electrolyte: Is usually a liquid which conducts electricity in a cell. It may also be a paste or a solid.
Conductor: a material that conducts electricity.
Resistor: something that resists the flow of electricity in a circuit.
Watt: the unit used to measure the amount of electrical energy used or generated in a circuit. Watts = volts x amperes.
Ampere (Amp): the unit used to measure electrical current per second.
Volt: the unit used to measure the electrical potential difference.
Diode: A diode will allow a current to flow only in one direction.
Circuit: Is the path of an electrical current, if closed it lets the energy flow, if open the path is broken.
You will understand the nature and scope of alternative energy so much better at the end of this course. 
Some students use that knowledge to make better decisions about how to provide for their own energy needs, at home or at work, and in doing so may save money, help the environment or move one step closer to a more sustainable lifestyle.
For others, this course is a foundation for learning more about alternative energy, or working in the alternative energy industry. 
Member of the Future Farmers Network

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Alternative Technology Association Member

Accredited ACS Global Partner

Member of the Permaculture Association

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Gavin Cole (Horticulturist)

Gavin started his career studying building and construction in the early 80's. Those experiences have provided a very solid foundation for his later work in landscaping. In 1988 he completed a B.Sc. and a few years later a Certificate in Garden Design. I

Maggi Brown

Maggi is the classic UK "plantswoman". She can identify thousands of plants, and maintains her own homes and gardens in the Cotswolds (England), and near Beziers (in Southern France). Maggi is regarded as a leading organics expert across the UK, having w

Josiane Joubran

CSC consultant with IBM, Software QA Engineer, Course Writer and Tutor. Josiane is an I.T professional with extensive experience with computer hardware and engineering in Lebanon and Australia. Josiane has a B.Eng., Grad.Dip.I.T., Master Info.Tech., MCP,

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