Author: Onyekachi Nwafor (KatexPower).

Topic: A country-wide energy transition plan.

Engineering disciplines: Energy; Electrical.

Ethical issues:  Sustainability; Social responsibility; Risk.

Professional situations: Public health and safety,

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: Engaging in Ethical Judgement: reaching moral decisions and providing the rationale for those decisions.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

At COP26, H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari announced Nigeria’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. This case involves an engineer who is one of the stakeholders invited by the president of Nigeria to implement an Energy Transition Plan (ETP). It requires the engineer, who is a professional and well experienced in renewable energy and energy transition, to deliver a comprehensive decarbonisation roadmap that will ensure net zero emissions.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

UK website:

Think tank:

Nigeria government site:

Industry publication:

Business:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are an electrical engineer working as a technical consultant in an international organisation aiming to  transform the global energy system to secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all. The organisation is one of the stakeholders invited by the federal government of Nigeria to implement the country’s new Energy Transition Plan (ETP) and you are given the task of creating a comprehensive decarbonisation roadmap and presenting it at the stakeholder meeting.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: In what ways could an electrical engineer bring needed expertise to the ETP? Why are engineers essential to ensuring a zero-carbon future? Should engineers be involved in policy planning? Why or why not?

2. Activity: Wider context research: Nigeria is currently an oil-producing country. What might policy makers need to consider about this reality when implementing an ETP? How strongly should you advocate for a reduction of the use of fossil fuels in the energy mix?

3. Discussion and activity: List the potential benefits and risks to implementing the ETP. Are these benefits and risks the same no matter which country they are implemented in?

4. Activity: Research and outline countries that have attained a zero emission target. What are their energy distribution mixes? Based on this information, what approach should Nigeria take and why?

5. Activity: What will be your presentation strategy at the stakeholder meeting? What will you advocate for and why? What ethical justifications can you make for the plan you propose?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

At the stakeholder meeting, you were given the opportunity to present your decarbonisation roadmap and afterwards faced serious opposition by the chief lobbyist of the Fossil Fuel and Mining Association, Mr. Abiola. Mr. Abiola is of the opinion that because Nigeria contributes less than 1% to the global emissions, it should not be held accountable for climate change, and therefore no country-wide climate policy is necessary. Furthermore, he fears the domestic market for coal that is used to produce electricity as well as the global market for fossil fuels will shrink because of the new policy. He also argues that a shift away from coal and fossil fuels could result in challenges to the security of supply, since renewables are by definition unreliable and volatile. Other stakeholders, such as activists and environmental experts, also voiced different concerns and opinions. They argue that time has already run out, and no country can delay decarbonisation plans no matter how small their impact on the global total. This conflict has resulted in disagreements in the negotiation.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Debate: Do different countries have different ethical responsibilities when it comes to decarbonisation? Why or why not? If so, for what reasons?

2. Discussion: How should countries weigh the short-term versus long-term benefits and burdens of the energy transition? What role do governments and corporations play in managing those? What role should citizens play?

3. Discussion: How will you prepare for and handle opposing questions to your roadmap plan? 

4. Activity: Create a participatory stakeholder engagement plan embedded in the overall decarbonisation strategy.

5. Activity: How will you utilise the different renewable energy mix to provide 100% access to electricity and ensure security of supply as an electrical engineer?

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.


Author:
Dr Gill Lacey (Teesside University).

Topic: Maintenance of an offshore wind farm.

Engineering disciplines: Mechanical; Energy.

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Risk.

Professional Situations: Public health and safety; Quality of work; Conflicts with leadership/management.

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Aware: determining that a single situation can be considered from a ethical point of view.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

The case is based on a genuine challenge raised by a multinational energy company that operates an offshore wind farm in the North Sea. It involves three professional engineers responsible for various aspects of the project to negotiate elements of safety, risk, environmental impact, and costs, in order to develop a maintenance plan for the wind turbine blades.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

This case is presented in two parts. In the first part, the perspectives and responsibilities of the three engineers are outlined so that students can determine what professional and ethical responsibilities are inherent in their roles. In the second part, a scenario is developed that puts the roles into potential conflict. Students then have the opportunity to work through a real-world brief that requires them to negotiate in order to present a solution to management. Teachers can choose to use Part one in isolation, or some or all of Part two to expand on the issues in the case. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

Professional organisations:

Business:

Journal articles:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

Offshore wind has huge benefits to the electricity industry as a renewable, low carbon resource.  The size and scale of the turbines, together with the remoteness – the wind farm referred to in this case is 200 km from shore – are a problem. However, it is a rapidly maturing industry and many of the issues around accessibility during installation have been solved. A wind farm is expected to generate for twenty years and so a system of inspection and maintenance needs to be put in place. At the same time, the environmental impact of industrial activity (including ongoing maintenance and repairs) needs to be managed in order to mitigate risks to ecosystem resources and services provided by the open sea.

In this wind farm there are one hundred turbines, each with three blades. The blades are 108 m long. Clearly, they need to be kept in good condition. However, inspecting the blades is a difficult and time consuming job.

There are three engineers that are responsible for various aspects of maintenance of the wind turbine blades. They are:

1. Blade engineer: My job is to make sure the blades are in good condition so that the wind farm operates as it was designed and generates as much power as possible. I am responsible for:

2. Health and safety engineer: My job is to make sure that the technicians who inspect and maintain the turbine blades are at minimal risk. I need to ensure compliance with:

3. Environmental engineer: My job is to ensure that the ecosystem is damaged as little as possible during turbine inspection and maintenance, and to rectify as best as possible any adverse effects that are incurred. After all, wind power is considered to be “green” energy and so wind farms should do as little damage to the environment as possible. This work helps:

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What sort of instances might cause damage to the turbine blades? (Possible answers: bird strike, collision with a vessel, storm, ice etc.)

2. Discussion: What problems might a damaged blade cause? (Possible answers: a damaged blade cannot generate properly; it might unbalance the other two blades until the whole turbine is affected. If a blade were to come loose it could strike another turbine blade, a vessel, sea creatures etc.)

3. Activity: Research how blade inspection is done. (Answer: a combination of photos from drones and reports from crew who need to use rope access to take a close look.)

a. If a drone is used, what issues might the drone have? (Answers: needs to be operated from a nearby vessel; weather (wind!); getting good resolution photos from a vibrating and moving drone; energy (battery) to power the drone.)

b. If a technician goes onsite, what issues are there with rope access? (Answers: time consuming; dangerous; can only be done in good weather; have to stop the turbine to access; training the inspection team; recording the findings.)

4. Discussion: What competing values or motivations might conflict in this scenario? Explain what constraints each engineer might be operating under and the potential conflicts between the roles.

5. Activity: Research what health and safety, environmental, and legal policies affect offshore wind farms. If they are in the open sea, which country’s laws are applied? Who is responsible for maintaining ecosystem health in the open sea? How are harms identified and mitigated?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

So, the blade engineer wants maintenance done effectively, with as little down time as possible; the H&S engineer wants it done safely, with as little danger to crew as possible; while the environmental engineer wants it done with as little damage to the ecosystem as possible. These three people must together develop an inspection plan that will be approved by upper management, who are largely driven by profitability – limited downtime in maintenance means increased profits as well as more energy delivered to customers.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

The students are then presented with a brief that gives some background to the wind farms and the existing inspection regime. The brief is structured to allow engineering design, engineering drawing and technical research to take place alongside consideration of potential ethical dilemmas.

Brief: In teams of three, where each team member is assigned a different role outlined above (blade engineer, health and safety engineer, environmental engineer), propose a feasible method for blade inspection that:

Aspects to consider:

Teachers could task teams to work together to:

The pitch could include details of:

 

1. Activity: Working in groups, consider possible solutions:

a. Explore 2 or 3 alternatives to answer the need or problem, identifying the ethical concerns in each.

b. Analyse the alternative solutions to identify potential benefits, risks, costs, etc.

c. Justify the proposed solution.

 (Apart from the design process, this activity allows some discussion over the choice of solution. Looking at more than one allows the quieter students to speak out and justify their thinking.)

2. Activity: Working in groups, present a solution that consists of one or more of the following:

a. Make a CAD or drawn prototype.

b. Make a physical or 3D model.

c. Create a poster detailing the solution which could include technical drawings.

d. Presentation.

 

Students will be assessed according to:

a. Quality of final solution

b. Construction and testing of model

c. Innovation and originality

d. Communication skills

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Dr J.L. Rowlandson (University of Bristol).

Topic: Home heating in the energy transition. 

Engineering disciplines: Chemical; Civil; Mechanical; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Social responsibility. 

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Conflicts of interest; Quality of work; Conflicts with leadership/management; Legal implication. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Sensitive: being broadly cognizant of ethical issues and having the ability to see how these issues might affect others. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study considers not only the environmental impacts of a clean technology (the heat pump) but also the social and economic impacts on the end user. Heat pumps form an important part of the UK government’s net-zero plan. Our technical knowledge of heat pump performance can be combined with the practical aspects of implementing and using this technology. However, students need to weigh the potential carbon savings against the potential economic impact on the end user, and consider whether current policy incentivises consumers to move towards clean heating technologies.  

This case study offers students an opportunity to practise and improve their skills in making estimates and assumptions. It also enables students to learn and practise the fundamentals of energy pricing and link this to the increasing issue of fuel poverty. Fundamental thermodynamics concepts, such as the second law, can also be integrated into this study.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in six parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Parts two to six develop and complicate the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities, as desired. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Open access textbooks: 

Journal articles: 

Educational institutions: 

Business: 

Government reports: 

Other organisations: 

Stakeholder mapping: 

 

Summary – Heating systems and building requirements: 

You are an engineering consultant working for a commercial heat pump company. The company handles both the manufacture and installation of heat pumps. You have been called in by a county council to advise and support a project to decarbonise both new and existing housing stock. This includes changes to social housing (either directly under the remit of the council or by working in partnership with a local housing association) and also to private housing, encouraging homeowners and landlords to move towards net zero emissions. In particular, the council is interested in the installation of clean heating technologies with a focus on heat pumps, which it views as the most technologically-ready solution. Currently most heating systems rely on burning natural gas in a boiler to provide heat. By contrast, a heat-pump is a device that uses electricity to extract heat from the air or ground and transfer it to the home, avoiding direct emission of carbon dioxide.  

The council sets your first task of the project as assessing the feasibility of replacing the existing gas boiler systems with heat pumps in social housing. You are aware that there are multiple stakeholders involved in this process you need to consider, in addition to evaluating the suitability of the housing stock for heat pump installation.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why might the council have prioritised retrofitting the social housing stock with heat pumps as the first task of the project? How might business and ethical concerns affect this decision?  

2. Activity: Use stakeholder mapping to determine who are the main stakeholders in this project and what are their main priorities? In which areas will these stakeholders have agreements or disagreements? What might their values be, and how do those inform priorities?  

3. Discussion: What key information about the property is important for choosing a heating system? What does the word feasibility mean and how would you define it for this project? 

4. Activity: Research the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC):  what are the main factors that determine the energy performance of a building?  

5. Discussion: What do you consider to be an ‘acceptable’ EPC rating? Is the EPC rating a suitable measure of energy efficiency? Who should decide, and how should the rating be determined?  

 

Technical pre-reading for Part one: 

It is useful to introduce the thermodynamic principles on which heat pumps operate in order to better understand the advantages and limitations when applying this engineering technology in a real-world situation. A heat pump receives heat (from the air, ground, or water) and work (in the form of electricity to a compressor) and then outputs the heat to a hot reservoir (the building you are heating). We recommend covering: 

An online, open-source textbook that covers both topics is Applications of Thermodynamics – Heat Pumps & Refrigerators. 

 

Dilemma – Part one – Considering heat pump suitability: 

You have determined who the main stakeholders are and how to define the project feasibility. A previous investigation commissioned by the council into the existing housing stock, and one of the key drivers for them to initiate this project, has led them to believe that most properties will not require significant retrofitting to make them suitable for heat pump installation.  

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Activity: Research how a conventional gas boiler central heating system works. How does a heat pump heating system differ? What heat pump technologies are available? What are the design considerations for installing a heat pump in an existing building? 

 

Dilemma – Part two – Inconsistencies: 

You spot some inconsistencies in the original investigation that appear to have been overlooked. On your own initiative, you decide to perform a more thorough investigation into the existing housing stock within the local authority. Your findings show that most of the dwellings were built before 1980 and less than half have an EPC rating of C or higher. The poor energy efficiency of the existing housing stock causes a potential conflict of interest for you: there are a significant number of properties that would require additional retrofitting to ensure they are suitable for heat pump installation. Revealing this information to the council at this early stage could cause them to pull out of the project entirely, causing your company to lose a significant client. You present these findings to your line manager who wants to suppress this information until the company has a formal contract in place with the council.  

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Discussion: How should you respond to your line manager? Is there anyone else you can go to for advice? Do you have an obligation to reveal this information to your client (the council) when it is they who overlooked information and misinterpreted the original study? 

2. Activity: An example of a factor that causes a poor EPC rating is how quickly the property loses heat. A common method for significantly reducing heat loss in a home is to improve the insulation. Estimate the annual running cost of using an air-source heat pump in a poorly-insulated versus a well-insulated home to look at the potential financial impact for the tenant (example approach shown in the Appendix, Task A). 

3. Discussion: What recommendations would you make to the council to ensure the housing is heat-pump ready? Would your recommendation change for a new-build property? 

 

Dilemma – Part three – Impact of energy costs on the consumer: 

Your housing stock report was ultimately released to the council and they have decided to proceed, though for a more limited number of properties. The tenants of these dwellings are important stakeholders who are ultimately responsible for the energy costs of their properties. A fuel bill is made up of the wholesale cost of energy, network costs to transport it, operating costs, taxes, and green levies. Consumers pay per unit of energy used (called the unit cost) and also a daily fixed charge that covers the cost of delivering energy to a home regardless of the amount of energy used (called the standing charge). In the UK, currently the price of natural gas is the main driver behind the price of electricity; the unit price of electricity is typically three to four times the price of gas. 

Your next task is to consider if replacing the gas boiler in a property with a heat pump system will have a positive or negative effect on the running costs.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler (see Appendix Task B for an example approach). 

2. Discussion: Energy prices are currently rising and have seen drastic changes in the UK over the past year. The lifetime of a new heat pump system is around 20 years. How would rising gas and electric prices affect the tenant? Does this impact the feasibility of using a gas boiler versus a heat pump? How can engineering knowledge and expertise help inform pricing policies? 

 

Dilemma – Part four – Tenants voice concerns: 

After a consultation, some of the current tenants whose homes are under consideration for heat pump installation have voiced concerns. The council is planning to install air-source heat pumps due to their reduced capital cost compared to a ground-source heat pump. The tenants are concerned that the heat pump will not significantly reduce their fuel bills in the winter months (when it is most needed) and instead could increase their bills if the unit price and standing charge for electricity continue to increase. They want a guarantee from the council that their energy bills will not be adversely affected. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why would air-source heat pumps be less effective in winter? What are the potential effects of increased energy bills on the tenants? How much input should the tenants have on the heating system in their rented property? 

2. Discussion: Do the council have any responsibility if the installation does result in an increased energy bill in the winter for their tenants? Do you and your company have any responsibility to the tenants?  

 

Dilemma – Part five – The council consultation: 

The council has hosted an open consultation for private homeowners within the area that you are involved in. They want to encourage owners of private dwellings to adopt low-carbon technologies and are interested in learning about the barriers faced and what they can do to encourage the adoption of low carbon-heating technologies. The ownership of houses in the local area is similar to the overall UK demographic: around 20% of dwellings are in the social sector (owned either by the local authority or a housing association), 65% are privately owned, and 15% are privately rented.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the lifetime cost of running an air-source heat pump and ground-source heat pump versus a natural gas boiler. Include the infrastructure costs associated with installation of the heating system (see Appendix Task C for an example approach). This can be extended to include the impact of increasing energy prices.  

2. Activity: Research the policies, grants, levies, and schemes available at local and national levels that aim to encourage uptake of net zero heating. 

3. Discussion: From your estimations and research, how suitable are the current schemes? What recommendations would you make to improve the uptake of zero carbon heating? 

 

Dilemma – Part six – Recommendations: 

Energy costs and legislation are important drivers for encouraging homeowners and landlords to adopt clean heating technologies. There is a need to weigh up potential cost savings with the capital cost associated with installing a new heat system. Local and national policies, grants, levies, and bursaries are examples of tools used to fund and support adoption of renewable technologies. Currently, an environmental and social obligations cost, known as the ‘green levies,’ are added to energy bills which contribute to a mixture of social and environmental energy policies (including, for example, renewable energy projects, discounts for low-income households, and energy efficiency improvements).  

Your final task is to think more broadly on encouraging the uptake of low-carbon heating systems in private dwellings (the majority of housing in the UK) and to make recommendations on how both councils locally and the government nationally can encourage uptake in order to reduce carbon emissions.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: In terms of green energy policy, where does the ethical responsibility lie –  with the consumer, the local government, or the national government?  

2. Discussion: Should the national Government set policies like the green levy that benefit the climate in the long-term but increase the cost of energy now?  

3. Discussion: As an employee of a private company, to what extent is the decarbonisation of the UK your problem? Do you or your company have a responsibility to become involved in policy? What are the advantages or disadvantages to yourself as an engineer?  

 

Appendix: 

The three tasks that follow are designed to encourage students to practise and improve their zeroth order approximation skills (for example a back of the envelope calculation). Many simplifying assumptions can be made but they should be justified.  

Task A: Impact of insulation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for an air-source heat pump in a poorly insulated home. Compare to a well-insulated home.  

Base assumptions around the heat pump system and the property being heated can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume:  

Example estimation: 

1. Estimate the overall heat loss for a poorly- and well-insulated property.

Note: heat loss is greater in the poorly insulated building.

 

 2. Calculate the work input for the heat pump.  

Assumption: heat pump matches the heat loss to maintain a consistent temperature.

 Note: a higher work input is required in the poorly insulated building to maintain a stable temperature.

 

3. Determine the work input over a year. 

Assumption: heat pump runs for 8 hours per day for 365 days.

 

4. Determine the running cost 

For an electricity unit price of 33.8 p per kWh.

 

Note: running cost is higher for the poorly insulated building due to the higher work input required to maintain temperature. 

 

Task B: Annual running cost estimation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 

 

Example estimation: 

1. Calculate the annual power requirement for each case. 

Assumed heating requirement is 15,000 kWh for the year. 

2. Calculate the annual cost for each case: 

Note: the higher COP of the ground-source heat pump makes this the more favourable option (dependent on the fuel prices).  

 

Task C: Lifetime cost estimation  

Challenge: Estimate the total lifetime cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 

 

1. Calculate the lifetime running cost for each case.

 

2. Calculate the total lifetime cost for each case.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Diana Martin (Eindhoven University of Technology); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Topic:  Participatory approaches for engaging with a local community about the development of risky technologies. 

Engineering disciplines: Nuclear engineering; Energy; Chemical engineering. 

Ethical issues: Corporate Social Responsibility; Risk; Accountability; Respect for the Environment. 

Professional situations: Conflicts of interest; Public health and safety; Communication. 

Educational level: Advanced.  

Educational aim: Engaging in ethical judgement: reaching moral decisions and providing the rationale for those decisions.  

 

Learning and teaching notes:  

This case study involves an early career engineer tasked with leading the development of plans for the construction of the first nuclear plant in a region. The case can be customised by instructors when specifying the name of the region, as to whether the location of the case study corresponds to the location of the educational institution or if a more remote context is preferred. The case incorporates several components, including stakeholder mapping, participatory methods for assessing risk perception and community engagement, qualitative risk analysis, and policy-making.  

The case study asks students to identify and define an open-ended risk problem in engineering and develop a socially acceptable solution, on the basis of limited and possibly contradictory information and differing perspectives. Additionally, students can gain awareness of broader responsibilities of engineers in the development of risky technologies, as well as the role of engineers in public debates and community engagement related to the adoption or development of risky technologies. 

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two and Part three develop and complicate the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

 Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to:  

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Journal articles: 

Community engagement organisations: 

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are an early career engineer working in the civil nuclear industry for Ultra Nuclear. This is a major company overseeing the construction of new power stations that has a strong reputation as a leader in the field with no controversies associated with its activity. Indeed, you have been impressed with Ultra Nuclear’s vision that the transition to using more nuclear energy can significantly reduce carbon emissions, and their development of next-generation nuclear technologies. After two years of working on the strictly technical side of the business, you have been promoted to a project manager role which requires you to do more public engagement. Your manager has assigned your first major project which involves making the plans for the development of a new power plant.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Societal context – What is the context in which Ultra Nuclear operates? Identify the national and supranational policies and regulation in your country related to the adoption of nuclear energy. Reflect on the broader rationale given for the adoption of nuclear energy. Research the history of nuclear technological developments (including opposition and failures) in your country. When tracing the context, you may consider:

2. Discussion: Personal values – What is your initial position on the adoption of nuclear energy? What are the advantages and disadvantages that you see for the adoption of nuclear energy in your country? What alternatives to nuclear energy do you deem more suitable and why?

3. Discussion: Risk perception – How do you perceive the risk of nuclear energy? How do your family and friends see this risk? How is nuclear energy portrayed in the media? Do you see any differences in how people around you see these risks? Why do you think this is so?

4. Activity: Risk mapping – Using a qualitative risk matrix, map the risks of a nuclear power plant.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

As it happens, this will be the first power plant established in the region where you were born, and your manager counts on your knowledge of the local community in addition to your technical expertise. To complete your project successfully, you are expected to ensure community approval for the new nuclear power plant. In order to do this, you will have to do some research to understand different stakeholders and their positions.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – Who are all the groups that are involved in the scenario? 

1.a. Activity: Read the article by Sven Ove Hansson, which puts forward a method for categorising stakeholders as risk-exposed, beneficiaries, or decision-makers (including overlaps of the three categories). Place each stakeholder group in one of these categories.

1.b. Discussion: Why are some groups risk-exposed, others beneficiaries, and others decision-makers? Why is it undesirable to have stakeholder groups solely in one of the categories? 

1.c. Discussion: What needs to change for some stakeholder groups to be not only in the category of risk-exposed, but also in the category of beneficiaries or decision-makers?  

2. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – How does each stakeholder group view nuclear energy? For each stakeholder group identified, research the arguments they put forward, their positions and preferences in regard to the adoption of nuclear energy. In addition to the stakeholder groups previously identified, you may consider:

For your research, you may consult the webpage of the stakeholder group (if it exists); any manifesto they present; mass media features (including interviews, podcasts, news items or editorials); flyers and posters. 

3. Discussion: How convincing are these arguments according to you? Do you see any contradictions between the arguments put forward by different groups? 

3.a. Discussion: Which group relies most on empirical data when presenting their position? Which stakeholders take the most extreme positions, according to you (radical either against or for nuclear energy), and why do you think this is so?  

3.b. Discussion: In groups of five students, rank the stakeholders from those that provide the most convincing to the least convincing arguments, then discuss these rankings in plenary. 

3.c. Roleplay (with students divided into groups): Each group is assigned a stakeholder, and gets to prepare and make the case for why their group is right, based on the empirical data and position put forward publicly by the group. The other groups grade on different criteria for how convincing the group is (such as 1. reliability of data, 2. rhetoric, 3. soundness of argument). 

4. Guest speaker activity: The instructor can invite as a guest speaker a representative of one of the stakeholder groups to talk with students about the theme of nuclear energy. Students can prepare a written reflection after the session on the topic of “What I learned about risks from the guest speaker” or “What I learned about my responsibility as a future engineer in regard to the adoption of nuclear energy.” 

 

Dilemma – Part three:

You arrive at the site of the intended power plant. You are received with mixed emotions. Although you are well liked and have many friends and relatives here, you are also warned that some residents are against the plans for the development of nuclear energy in the area. Several people with whom you’ve had informal chats have significant concerns about the power plant, and whether their health or safety will be negatively affected. At the same time, many people from the surrounding area do not yet know anything about the plans for building the nuclear site. In addition, in the immediate vicinity of the power plant site, the community hosts a small number of refugees who, having just arrived, are yet to be proficient in the language, and whose communication relies mostly on a translator. How will you ensure that this community is well informed of the plans for developing the power plant in their region and approves the plans of Ultra Nuclear? How will you engage with the community and towards what aims? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Research empirical data on the risk awareness and risk perception of public attitudes about nuclear energy, and sum up any findings that you find interesting or relevant for the case study. 

1.a. Discussion: According to you, is risk awareness and perception the same thing? How do they differ as concepts? Considering the research you just did, is there a relation between people’s risk awareness and perception? What does this imply? 

1.b Discussion: Do you identify any differences in the risk perception of the public (based on gender, age, geographical location, educational level)? Why do you think this is so?  

1.c. Discussion: Does the public see the same risks about nuclear energy as technical experts do? Why is this so? 

1.d. Activity: Read Sheila Jasanoff – The political science of risk perception. What is the key takeaway message for you?

2. Group activity: Compose a survey to understand the risk awareness and risk perception of members of the local community.

2.a. Discussion: What are the key questions for the survey? 

2.b. Discussion: How will you distribute the survey and to how many people? 

2.c. Discussion: Do you need to make any special arrangements to ensure that the views of all relevant groups are represented in the survey? 

2.d. Discussion: How will you use the data from the survey and how do you plan to follow-up on the survey?

3. Group activity: Develop a method for engaging with the community in the stages of developing and operating the nuclear plant.

3.a. Discussion: What values and principles do you highlight by engaging with the community? 

3.b. Discussion: How do you choose which participatory methods to use? 

You can use the following resources: Participation toolkit  or Performing Participatory Foresight Methods, Mazzurco and Jesiek, Bertrand, Pirtle and Tomblin. 

 

Annex:  

Localised case study: The development of Nuclear Energy in Ireland. 

Context description: Wikipedia entry for Nuclear power in Ireland and the Carnsore Point protests. 

Summary: 

The entire island of Ireland, comprising The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK), has never produced any electricity from nuclear power stations. Previous plans have been opposed as early as the 1970s through large public rallies, concerts, and demonstrations against the production of nuclear energy on the island. At the time, Carnsore Point was proposed as a site for the development of four nuclear reactors by the Electricity Supply Board. Public opposition led to the cancelling of this nuclear project and its replacement with a coal burning power station at Moneypoint. Since the 2000s there has been a renewed interest in the possibilities for producing nuclear energy on the island, in response to climate change and the need to ensure energy security. Surveys for identifying public acceptance and national forums have been proposed as ways to identify current perceptions and prospects for the development of nuclear energy. Nevertheless, nuclear energy in the Republic of Ireland is still prohibited by law, through the Electricity Regulation Act (1999). Nuclear energy is currently a contentious topic of debate, with many involved parties holding varying positions and arguments. 

Example of stakeholders: The Irish government; the UK government; political parties; electricity supply board (state owned electricity company); BENE – Better Environment with Nuclear Energy (lobby group); Friends of the Irish Environment (environmental group), Friends of the Earth – Ireland (environmental group); The Union of Concerned Scientists; Wind Aware (lobby group); local community (specified further based on demographic characteristics, such as the Traveller community); scientists in the National Centre for Plasma Science & Technology at Dublin City University (university researchers). 

Sources used for the description of the roles: Policy documents; official websites; institutional or group manifestos; news articles, editorials and other appearances in the media. 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Mr Neil Rogers (Independent Scholar); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Topic: Suitable technology for developing countries. 

Engineering disciplines: Mechanical engineering; Electrical engineering; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Honesty; Integrity; Public good. 

Professional situations: Communication; Bribery; Working cultures; Honesty; Transparency. 

Educational level: Advanced. 

Educational aim: Practicing Ethical Reasoning: the application of critical analysis to specific events in order to evaluate and respond to problems in a fair and responsible way. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study requires a newly appointed engineer to make a decision about whether or not to sell unsuitable equipment to a developing country. Situated in Ghana, the engineer must weigh perspectives on environmental ethics that may differ from those informed by a different cultural background, as well as navigate unfamiliar workplace expectations. 

The engineer’s own job security is also at stake, which may complicate decision-making. As a result, this case has several layers of relations and potential value-conflicts. These include values that underlie assumptions held about honesty, integrity, the environment and its connection to human life and services. 

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

This case study is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired.  

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Educational institutions: 

Journal articles: 

Professional organisations: 

News articles: 

NGOs: 

 

Pre-reading: 

To prepare for activities related to environmental ethics, teachers may want to read, or assign students to pre-read, the academic articles found in the resource list: ‘Environmental ethics: An overview’ or ‘Mean or Green: Which values can promote stable pro-environmental behaviour?’ 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

You have just graduated from university as a mechanical engineer and you are starting your first job as a sales engineer for JCD Engineering, a company that designs and manufactures pumping equipment. JCD has recently expanded operations in sub-Saharan Africa and you took the job because you were excited for the opportunity to travel and work in a country and culture different from your own.  

For your first project, you have been asked to put together quite a large bid for a water pumping aid project for some farms in northern Ghana. It just so happens that there is a trade show being held in Accra, so your manager has suggested you attend the show with a colleague to help on the company stand and combine this with a site visit to where the pumping equipment is to be installed. A representative from the aid organisation agrees to drive you to where the project will be sited before the trade show takes place. 

On arrival in Ghana, you are met by the rep to take you on your journey up country. This is your first visit to a developing country; you are excited, a little apprehensive and quite surprised by disorganisation at the airport, poor infrastructure, and obvious poverty in the villages up country. Still, you immediately see the difference that water pump installation could make to improve quality of life in villages. After two days of travelling, you eventually arrive at the village where the project JCD is bidding on will be situated. You are surprised to hear that the aid rep is quite cynical about engineering aid projects from the UK; this is because many have failed and she hopes that this won’t be another one. She is very busy and leaves you with local school teacher Amadou, who will host you during your stay and act as your interpreter. 

The local chief, farmers, and their families are very excited to see you and you are taken aback by the lavish food, dancing, and reception that they have laid on especially for you. You exchange social media contacts with Amadou, who you understand has been instrumental in winning this contract. You get excited about working with Amadou on this project and the prospect of improving the livelihoods of the locals with better access to clean water. 

After some hours you get shown some of the existing pumping equipment, but you don’t recognise it and it has obviously been left idle for some time and looks to be in a poor state. The farmers appear confused and are surprised that you aren’t familiar with the pumps. They explain that the equipment is from China and was working well for many years. They understand how it operates and have even managed to repair some of the fittings in local workshops, but there are now key parts they have been waiting many months for and they assume that you have brought them with you. 

You try to explain through Amadou that there has been some misunderstanding and that you don’t have the spares but will be quoting for replacement equipment from your company in the UK. This is not what the farmers want to hear and the mood changes. They have spent many years getting to know this kit and now they can even locally fabricate some of the parts. Why would you change it all now? The farmers start shouting and Amadou takes you to one side and suggests you should respond by offering them something in return. 

What should you offer them? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What is your initial reaction to the miscommunication? Does it surprise you? What might your initial reaction reveal to you about your own perspectives and values? 

2. Discussion: What is your initial reaction to the reception given to you? Does it surprise you? What might your initial reaction reveal to you about your own perspectives and values? 

3. Activity: Technical integration – undertake an electrical engineering technical activity related to water pumps and their power consumption against flow rates and heads. 

4. Discussion and activity: List the potential benefits and risks to implementing water pump technology compared to traditional methods of water collection. Are these benefits and risks the same no matter which country they are implemented in? 

5. Activity: Research water pumping in developing countries. What are the main technical and logistical issues with this technology? Are there any cultural issues to consider?  

6. Activity: This activity is related to optional pre-readings on environmental ethics. Consider how your perspective is related to the following environmental values, and pair/share or debate with a peer. 

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

You reluctantly backtrack a little on what you said earlier and convince Amadou and the farmers that you will be able to sort something out. Back in Accra at the local trade show, you manage to source only a few spares as a quick fix since you had to pay for them yourself without your colleague noticing. The aid representative agrees to take them up country next time she travels. 

You arrive back in the UK and begin to prepare the JCD bid. You are aware that the equipment from your company is very different to the Chinese kit that the farmers already have. It is designed to run on a different voltage and uses different pipe gauges throughout for the actual water pumping. The locally fabricated spares will definitely not connect to the JCD components you will be specifying. 

You voice your concerns to your manager about the local situation but your manager insists that it is not your problem and the bid will not win if it is not competitive. Sales in your department are not good at the moment, and after all you are a new employee on probation and you want to make a good first impression. 

Having further investigated some comments Amadou made on the trip, you discover that the water table has dropped by several metres in this part of Ghana over the last five years and you realise that the equipment originally quoted for might not even be up to the job! 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Should you disclose these newly discovered concerns about the water table height or keep quiet? 

2. Discussion: Do you continue to submit the bid for equipment that you know may be totally inappropriate? Why, or why not? 

3. Activity: Role-play a conversation between the engineer and the JCD manager about the issues that have been discovered. 

4. Discussion and activity: Research levels of the water table in West Africa and how they have changed over the last 50 years. Is there a link here to climate change? What other factors may be involved? 

5. Discussion: Environmental ethics deals with assumptions that are often unstated, such as the obligation to future generations. Some people find that our obligation is greater to people who exist at this moment than to those that don’t yet exist. Do you agree or disagree with this position? Why? Can we maintain an obligation to future generations while simultaneously saying that this must be weighed against the obligations in the here and now? 

6. Activity: Both cost-benefit and value trade-off analyses are valuable approaches to consider in this case. Determine the possible courses of action and undertake both types of analysis for each position by considering both short- and long-term consequences. (Use the Mapping actors and processes article to help with this activity.) 

7. Activity: Using reasoning and evidence, create arguments for choosing one of the possible courses of action. 

8. Activity: Use heuristics to analyse possible courses of action. One heuristic is the Environmental ethics decision making guide. Another is the 7-step guide to ethical decision-making. 

  

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Case enhancement: Power-to-food technologies

Activity: An ethical evaluation of the technology and its impacts.

Author: Dr Fiona Truscott (UCL).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part one, Point 1 section of the case: “Identify different aspects of the production process where ethical concerns may arise, from production to delivery to consumption.” Below are prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.

In this group activity, students will act as consultants brought in by the Power to Food team to create an ethical evaluation of the technology and any impacts it may have throughout its lifetime. The aim here is for students to work together to discuss the potential ethical issues at each stage of the production process as well as thinking about how they might be addressed. Groups will need to do research, either in class or at home. Depending on the timeframe you may want to give them a starting point and some basic information found in the case study’s learning and teaching resources.

 

Suggested timeline:

 

Team briefing:

You are a team of consultants brought in by the company who has developed Power to Food technology. Before they go to market they want to understand the ethical issues that may arise from the technology and address them if possible. They want you to look at the process as a whole and identify any ethical issues that might come up. They also want to know how easy these issues might be to address and want you to suggest potential ways to address them. You will need to provide the company with a briefing on your findings.

 

Tools:

It’s useful to give teams some frameworks through which they can do an analysis of the production process. One of those is to discuss who is harmed by the process at each stage. This is harm in the widest possible sense: physical, environment, political, reputational etc. What or who could be impacted and how? Another framework is the values of the people or entities involved in the process: what are they trying to achieve or what do they want and are any of these in conflict? Topics such as sustainability and accessibility also have an ethical dimension, and using these as a lens can help students to look at the problem from a different viewpoint.

 

Prompts for questions:

These are questions that you can get students to answer in class or suggest that they cover in an assessment. This could also be information you give the team so that they can use it as a foundation.

 

Assessment:

This group activity lends itself to a few different assessment formats, depending on what fits with your programme and timeframe. The two key things to assess are whether students can understand and identify ethical issues across the whole Power to Food production process and whether they can discuss ways to address these issues and the complexities that can be involved in addressing these issues. These two things can be assessed separately; for example through a written report where teams discuss the potential issues and a presentation where they talk about how they might address these issues. Or one assessment can cover both topics. This can be a written report, a live or recorded presentation, a video, podcast or a poster. Teams being able to see other teams’ contributions is both a good way of getting them to discuss different viewpoints and makes for a fun session. You can get teams to present their final work or a draft to each other.

Depending on the timeframe, you may also want to build in some skills assessment too. The AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics are a great starting point for assessing skills and IPAC is a good tool for assessing teamwork via peer assessment.

 

Marking Criteria:

Good Average Poor
Understanding and identification of ethics issues across the whole Power to Food production process Has identified and understood context specific ethical issues across the production process. May have shown some understanding of how issues may impact on each other. Has identified and understood broad/general ethical issues around production processes but hasn’t linked much to the specific context of the case study. Some stages may be more detailed than others. Has not identified many or any ethical issues and seems to have not understood what we’re looking for.
Discussing ways to address these issues and the complexities that can be involved Has identified context specific ways to address the ethical issues raised and has understood the potential complexities of addressing those ethical issues. Has identified broad/general ways to address the ethical issues raised and made some reference to differing levels of complexity in addressing ethical issues. Has not identified many or any ways to address the ethical issues raised and seems to have not understood what we’re looking for.
Communication Very clear, engaging and easy to understand communication of the ethical issues involved and ways to address them. Right language level for the audience. Generally understandable but not clear in places or uses the wrong level of language for the audience (assumes too much or not enough prior knowledge). Difficult to understand the point being made either due to language used or disconnection to the point of the assessment or topic.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Dr Nik Whitehead (University of Wales Trinity Saint David); Dr Matthew Studley (University of the West of England, Bristol); Dr Darian Meacham (Maastricht University); Professor Mike Bramhall (TEDI-London); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Trade-offs in the energy transition.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering, Electrical engineering, Energy.

Ethical issues: Sustainability, Honesty, Respect for the environment, Public good.

Professional situations: Communication, Bribery, Working cultures.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practise ethical reasoning. Ethical reasoning applies critical analysis to specific events in order to consider, and respond to, a problem in a fair and responsible way.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case requires an engineer with strong convictions about sustainable energy to make a decision about whether or not to take a lucrative contract from the oil industry. Situated in Algeria, the engineer must weigh perspectives on environmental ethics that may differ from those informed by a different cultural background, as well as navigate unfamiliar workplace expectations. The engineer’s own financial wellbeing is also at stake, which may complicate decision-making. As a result, this case has several layers of relations and potential value-conflicts. These include values that underlie assumptions held about the environment and its connection to human life and services.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired. To prepare for activities related to environmental ethics, teachers may want to read, or assign students to pre-read the following academic articles: ‘Environmental ethics: An overview’ or ‘Mean or Green: Which values can promote stable pro-environmental behavior?’

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Summary:

You are an electrical engineer who had a three-year contract with a charity in Algeria to install solar systems on remote houses and farms that were not yet connected to the grid. The charity’s project came to an end and you have set up your own company to continue the work. It has been difficult raising money from investors to fund the project and the fledgling business is in debt. It is doubtful that your company will survive for much longer without a high-profit project.

During your time in Algeria, you have made many local and regional contacts in the energy industry. Through one of these contacts, you learn of an energy company operating a large oil field in the region that is looking to convert to solar energy to power its injection pumping, monitoring, and control systems. In doing so, the oil field will eliminate its dependency on coal-fired electricity, increasing production while boosting the company’s environmental credentials. It also hopes to make use of a governmental tax credit for businesses that make such solar conversions.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What is your initial reaction to using solar energy for oil and gas production? What might your initial reaction reveal to you about your own perspectives and values?

2. Discussion and activity: List the potential benefits and risks to implementing this technology. Are these benefits and risks the same no matter which country they are implemented in?

3. Activity: Research the trend for using solar energy in oil and gas production. Which companies are promoting it and which countries are using this technology?

4. Discussion and activity related to optional pre-readings: Consider how your perspective is related to the following environmental values, and pair/share or debate with a peer.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

The following week you receive a phone call in your home office. It is a representative of the energy company named Sami. He asks you to bid for the solar installation contract for the oilfield. At first you are reluctant, it doesn’t seem right to use solar power to extract fuel that will contribute to the ongoing climate emergency. You explain your hesitation, saying “I got into the solar business because I believe we have a responsibility to future generations to develop sustainable energy.” Sami laughs and says “While you’re busy helping people who don’t exist yet, I’m trying to provide energy to the people who need it now. Surely we have a responsibility to them too?”

Sami then quotes a figure that the company is willing to pay you for the project work. You are taken aback at how large it is – the profit made on this contract would be enough to pay off your debts and give your business financial security moving forward. Still, you hesitate, telling Sami you need some time to think it over. He agrees and persuades you to attend dinner with him and his family later that week.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Have you done anything wrong by accepting Sami’s dinner invitation?

2. Discussion: Environmental ethics deals with assumptions that are often unstated, such as the obligation to future generations. Like Sami, some people find that our obligation is greater to people who exist at this moment, not to those that don’t yet exist. Do you agree or disagree with this position? Why? Can we maintain an obligation to future generations while simultaneously saying that this must be weighed against the obligations in the here and now?

3. Activity: Both cost-benefit and value trade-off analyses are valuable approaches to consider in this case.  Determine the possible courses of action and undertake both types of analysis for each position by considering both short- and long-term consequences. [use the Mapping actors and processes article to help with this activity].

4. Activity: Using reasoning and evidence, create arguments for choosing one of the possible courses of action.

5. Activity: Undertake technical calculations in the areas of chemical and / or electrical engineering related to carbon offset and solar installations.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

When you arrive at Sami’s house for dinner you are surprised to find you aren’t the only guest. Leila, a finance manager at the oil company is also present. During the meal, she suggests they are considering investing in your business. “After all,” she points out, “many of our employees and their families could really use solar at their homes. We have even decided to subsidise the installation as a benefit to them.”

You are impressed by the oil company’s commitment to their workers and this would also guarantee you an income stream for 3-5 years. Of course, to guarantee the investment in your company, you will have to agree to undertake the oil field installation. You comment to Leila and Sami that it feels strange to be having these formal discussions over a family meal. “This is how we do business here,” says Sami. “You become part of our family too.”

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Do you accept the contract to complete the installation? Do you accept the investment in your company? Why, or why not?

2. Discussion: Is this bribery? Why, or why not?

3. Activity: Role-play the conversation between Sami, Leila, and the engineer.

4. Activity: Use heuristics to analyse possible courses of action. One heuristic is the Environmental ethics decision making guide. Another is the 7-step guide to ethical decision-making.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Professor Thomas Lennerfors (Uppsala University); Nina Fowler (Uppsala University); Johnny Rich (Engineering Professors’ Council); Professor Dawn Bonfield MBE (Aston University); Professor Chike Oduoza (University of Wolverhampton); Steven Kerry (Rolls-Royce); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Alternative food production.

Engineering disciplines: Energy; Chemical engineering.

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Social responsibility.

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Personal/professional reputation; Falsifying or misconstruing data / finances; Communication.

Educational level: Advanced.

Educational aim: Practise ethical reasoning. Ethical reasoning applies critical analysis to specific events in order to evaluate, and respond, to problems in a fair and responsible way.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves an engineer navigating multiple demands on a work project. The engineer must evaluate trade-offs between social needs, technical specifications, financial limitations, environmental needs, legal requirements, and safety. Some of these factors have obvious ethical dimensions, and others are more ambiguous. The engineer must also navigate a professional scenario in which different stakeholders try to influence the resolution of the dilemma.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Summary:

Power-to-X (P2X) describes a number of pathways for the transformation of electricity to alternative forms. This can be utilised for storing energy for later use, in order to balance periods of excesses and deficits resulting from the use of renewable energy technologies. It can also be used in applications that do not use electricity, such as through the transformation of electricity to hydrogen or other gases for industrial use.

One area that has seen significant development in recent years is power-to-food (PtF). This pathway results in CO2 being transformed, through chemical or biological processes powered by renewable energy, into food. One such process uses electrolysis and the Calvin cycle to create hydrocarbons from CO2, water and bacteria. The end result is a microbial protein, a substance that could be used in animal feed. Ultimately, the technology could produce a meat alternative suitable for human consumption, further reducing the carbon emissions produced by intensive animal farming.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Identify the potential harms and risks of this technology, both objective and subjective. For example, could the shift of food production from soil to chemical industries concentrate power in the hands of a few? What public perceptions or cultural values might impact the acceptance or uptake of the technology? 

2. Discussion: Wider context – What social, technological, economic, environmental, political, or legal factors might need to be considered in order to implement this technology?

3. Activity: Research companies that are currently developing P2X technologies. Which industries and governments are promoting P2X? How successful have early projects been? What obstacles exist in upscaling?

4. Activity: Undertake a technical activity in the area of biochemical engineering related to the storing and transforming of renewable energy.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are the Chief Technical Officer at a company that has developed PtF technology that can convert CO2 to edible fatty acids (or triglycerides). The potential of CO2 capture is attractive to many stakeholders, but the combination of carbon reduction tied in with food production has generated positive media interest. The company also intends to establish its PtF facility near a major carbon polluter, that will reduce transport costs. However, some nearby residents are concerned about having a new industrial facility in their area, and have raised additional concerns about creating unsafe food.

As part of the process to commercialise this technology, you have been tasked with completing an ethical assessment. This includes an analysis of the technology’s short and long-term effects in a commercial application.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion and Activity: Identify different aspects of the production process where ethical concerns may arise, from production to delivery to consumption. Which ethical issues do you consider to be the most challenging to address?

2. Discussion: What cultural values might impact the ethical assessment? Does trust play a role in our ethical and consumption decisions? What internal logics / business goals might steer, or influence, the acceptance of various ethical considerations?

3. Discussion: Which areas of the ethical assessment might stakeholders be most interested in, or concerned about, and why?

4. Discussion: Does the choice of location for PtF facilities influence the ethical assessment? What problems could this PtF technology solve?

5. Discussion: What competing values or motivations might come into conflict in this scenario? What codes, standards, or authoritative bodies might be relevant to this? What is the role of ethics in technology development?

6. Activity: Assemble a bibliography of relevant professional codes, standards, and authorities.

7. Activity: Research the introduction of novel foods throughout history and / or engineering innovations in food production.

8. Activity: Write up the ethical assessment of the business case, and include findings from the previous questions and research.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

You deliver your ethical assessment to your manager. Shortly afterwards you are asked to edit the report to remove or downplay some ethical issues you have raised. The company leadership is worried that potential investors in an upcoming financing round may be dissuaded from investing in the company if you do not edit these sections.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Professional and ethical responsibilities – What are the ethical implications of editing or not editing the report? What consequences could this type of editing have? Think about stakeholders such as the company, potential investors and society.

2. Discussion: Wider considerations of business ethics – How would you recognise an ethical organisation? What are its characteristics? What is the role of ethics in business?

 

Enhancements:

An enhancement for this case study can be found here.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Professor Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE (Heriot-Watt University); Professor Thomas Lennerfors (Uppsala University); Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Soil carbon sequestration and Solar geoengineering.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering; Energy and Environmental engineering.

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Social responsibility; Risk.

Professional situations: Public health and safety, Communication.

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: To develop ethical awareness. Ethical awareness is when an individual determines that a single situation has moral implications and can be considered from an ethical point of view.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves a dilemma that most engineering students will have to face at least once in their careers: which job offer to accept. This study allows students to consider how personal values affect professional decisions. The ethical aspect of this dilemma comes from weighing competing moral goods –that is, evaluating what might be the better choice between two ethically acceptable options. In addition, the case offers students an introduction to ethical principles underpinning EU environmental law, and a chance to debate ethical aspects surrounding emerging technologies. Finally, the case invites consideration of the injustices inherent in proposed solutions to climate change.

This case study addresses two AHEP 4 themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Summary:

Olivia is a first-generation university student who grew up on a farm in rural Wales and was often frustrated by living in such a remote environment. When she received excellent A levels in maths and sciences, she took a place on a chemical engineering course in London.

Olivia became passionate about sustainability and thrived during her placements with companies that were working on innovative climate solutions. One of the most formative events for her  was COP26 in Glasgow. Here, she attended debates and negotiations that contributed to new global agreements limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Following this experience, Olivia has been looking for jobs that would allow her to work on the front line combating climate change.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

Olivia has received two job offers. One is a very well-paid position at CarGro, a small firm not far from her family farm. This company works on chemical analysis for soil carbon storage – the ability of soil’s organic matter to sequester carbon-rich compounds and therefore offset atmospheric CO2

The other offer is for an entry-level position at EnSol, a company developing the feasibility of stratospheric aerosol injection. This technology aims to mimic the effect that volcanic eruptions have on the atmosphere when they eject particles into the stratosphere that reflect sunlight and subsequently cool the planet. EnSol is a start-up located in Bristol that has connections with other European companies working on complementary technologies.

While considering these two offers, Olivia recalls an ethics lesson she had in an engineering design class. This lesson examined the ethical implications of projects that engineers choose to work on. The example used was of a biomedical engineer who had to decide whether to work on cancer cures or cancer prevention, and which was more ethically impactful. Olivia knows that both CarGro and EnSol have the potential to mitigate climate change, but she wonders if one might be better than the other. In addition, she has her own goals and motivations to consider: does she really want to work near her parents again, no matter how well-paid that job is?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – what personal values will Olivia have to weigh in order to decide which job offer to accept? 

2. Activity: research the climate mitigation potential of soil carbon sequestration (SCS) and stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).

3. Discussion: Professional values – based on the research, which company is doing the work that Olivia might feel is most ethically impactful? Make an argument for both companies.

4. Discussion: Wider impact – what impact does the work of these two companies have? Consider this on local, regional, and global scales. Who benefits from their work, and who does not?

5. Discussion: Technical integration – undertake a technical activity in the areas of chemical engineering, energy and / or environmental engineering related to the climate mitigation potential of SCS and SAI.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

To help her with the decision, Olivia talks with three of her former professors. The first is Professor Carrera, whom Olivia accompanied to COP26. Professor Carrera specialises in technology policy, and tells Olivia about the precautionary principle, a core component of EU environmental law. This principle is designed to help governments make decisions when outcomes are uncertain.

The second is Professor Adams, Olivia’s favourite chemical engineering professor, who got her excited about emerging technologies in the area of climate change mitigation. Professor Adams emphasises the opportunity at EnSol provides, to be working on cutting-edge research and development – “the sort of technology that might make you rich, as well!”

Finally, Olivia speaks to Professor Liu, an expert in engineering ethics. Professor Liu’s latest book on social responsibility in engineering argues that many climate change mitigation technologies are inequitable because they unfairly benefit rich countries and have the potential to be risky and burdensome to poorer ones.

Based on these conversations, Olivia decides to ask the hiring managers at CarGro and EnSol some follow-up questions. Knowing she was about to make these phone calls, both her mother and her best friend Owen (who has already secured a job in Bristol) have messaged her with contradictory advice.  What does Olivia ask on the calls to CarGro and EnSol to help her make a decision? Ultimately, which job should Olivia take?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity and discussion: research the precautionary principle – what have been the potentially positive and negative aspects of its effect on EU policy decisions related to the environment?

2. Activity: identify the risks and benefits of SCS and SAI for different communities.

3. Activity: map the arguments of the three professors. Whose perspective might be the most persuasive to Olivia and why?

4. Activity: rehearse and role play phone calls with both companies.

5. Activity: debate which position Olivia should take.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Let us know what you think of our website