Authors:
Cortney Holles (Colorado School of Mines); Ekaterina Rzyankina (University of Cape Town).

Topic: Critical digital literacy.

Engineering disciplines: Computer Science; Information Systems; Biomedical engineering.

Ethical issues: Cultural context; Social responsibility; Privacy.

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Working in area of competence; Informed consent.

Educational level: Intermediate.

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

 

Learning and teaching notes:

The case involves an engineering student whose personal choices may affect her future professional experience. It highlights both micro- and macro-ethical issues, dealing with the ways that individual actions and decisions can scale to create systemic challenges.

An ethical and responsible engineer should know how to work with and use digital information responsibly. Not all materials available online are free to use or disperse. To be digitally literate, a person must know how to access, evaluate, utilise, manage, analyse, create, and interact using digital resources (Martin, 2008). It is important to guide engineering students in understanding the media landscape and the influence of misleading information on our learning, our political choices, and our careers. A large part of critical digital literacy is evaluating information found on the web. For students working on a research project or an experiment, accessing accurate information is imperative. This case study offers several approaches to engaging students in the critique and improvement of their critical digital literacy skills. The foundations of this lesson can be applied in multiple settings and can be expanded to cover several class periods or simplified to be inserted into a single class.

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 the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in the Summary and 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:

News articles:

Educational institutions:

Legal regulations:

Non-profit organisations:

Business:

 

Summary:

Katherine is a biomedical engineering student in her 3rd year in 2022, and will have a placement in a community hospital during her last term at university. She plans to pursue a career in public health after seeing what her country went through during the Covid-19 pandemic. She wants to contribute to the systems that can prevent and track public health risks from growing too large to manage, as happened with Covid-19. She is motivated by improving systems of research and treatment for emerging diseases and knows that communication between a variety of stakeholders is of the utmost importance.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What can you determine about Katherine’s values and motivation for her studies and her choice of career?

2. Discussion: How do you connect with her mission to improve diagnostic and treatment systems for public health threats?

3. Discussion: Who should be responsible for the messaging and processes for public health decisions? How are engineers connected to this system?

4. Activity: Research the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the United Kingdom versus other countries – how did power, privilege, and politics influence the response?

5. Activity: Research current public health concerns and how they are being communicated to the public. In what ways might engineers affect how and what is communicated?

 

Dilemma – Part one:

As Katherine approaches the winter holiday season, she makes plans to visit her grandmother across the country. She hasn’t seen her since before the Covid-19 pandemic and is excited to be around her extended family for the holidays once again. However, she receives an email from her cousin informing everyone that he and his family are not vaccinated against Covid-19 because the whole vaccination operation was forced upon citizens and they refused to participate. Katherine is immediately worried for her grandmother – at 85 years old, she is at a higher risk than most – and for her brother, who suffers from Addison’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. Additionally, if Katherine comes into contact with Covid-19 while celebrating the holidays with her family, she could suffer repercussions at both her university and the hospital where she will work for her placement.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: How can Katherine communicate with her cousin about her concerns for her brother and grandmother? How might she use her expertise as a biomedical engineer in this conversation?

2. Discussion: What kind of information will be most convincing to support her decision? What sources would provide the evidence she is looking for, and which ones would provide counter arguments?

3. Discussion: What impacts might the decision have on Katherine’s position as a student or in the hospital?

4. Discussion: Do engineers, scientists, and medical professionals have more of an obligation to promote and adhere to public health guidance? Why or why not?

5. Activity: Talk to people in your life about their experience of navigating the Covid-19 vaccine. Did they choose to get it as soon as it was available? Did they avoid getting the vaccine for particular reasons? Were there impacts on their personal relationships or work because of their choices about the vaccine?

6. Activity: Research some of the impacts on individuals with health concerns and comorbidities in regard to Covid-19 and other viruses or public health concerns. How do these experiences match with or differ from your own?

7. Activity: Investigate the different ways that engineers were involved in vaccination development and response.    

 

Dilemma – Part two:

Katherine went back to university after a lengthy break for the holidays and immediately registered for an account on Facebook as a brand-new user. She was in such a hurry to have her profile up that she did not take the time to configure any privacy settings. She stayed up late reading an article about Covid-19  that had been posted on the website of one of the online newspapers. Before she posted this report on her own Facebook page, she did not verify the accuracy of the information or the source of the information.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What kind of impact might this social media activity have on Katherine’s position as a student or in the company/organisation/hospital she is working for as an intern? What should Katherine be worried or concerned about after posting information?

2. Discussion: Do social media companies collect or ask for any other non-essential information from you? Why does the website claim that they are collecting or asking for your information? Does the website share/sell/trade the information that they collect from you? With whom does the website share your collected information? How long does the website keep your collected information? Does the website delete your information, or simply de-personalise it?

3. Discussion: Regarding question 2, how are engineers involved with products, processes, or services that enable those choices and actions?

4. Discussion: What is real and fake news? How do you know? What do you look for to know if it is real or fake news (share guidelines)? Do you expect it to be easy to spot fake news? Why should we care if people distribute and believe fake news?

Students are particularly susceptible to being duped by propaganda, misleading information, and fake news due to the significant role that information and communication technology which is problematic to verify plays in their everyday life. Students devote a significant portion of their time to participating in various forms of online activity, including watching television, playing online games, chatting, blogging, listening to music, posting photos of themselves on social networking sites, and searching for other individuals with whom they can engage in online conversation. Students owe a significant portion of what they know about the world and how they perceive reality to the content that they read online. While many people share reliable and positive information online, others may engage in negative impact information sharing:

5. Discussion: What are some other examples of how engineering might fall prey to negative impact information sharing?

6. Discussion: How might engineers help address the problem of fake news and negative impact information sharing?

 

References:

Martin, A. (2008). ‘Digital Literacy and the “Digital Society”’, in Lankshear C. and Knobel M. (eds.), Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies, and Practices. New York: Peter Lang,  (pp. 151-176).

 

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: Dr Yujia Zhai (University of Hertfordshire); Associate Professor Scarlett Xiao (University of Hertfordshire). 

Topic: Data security of industrial robots.  

Disciplines: Robotics; Data; Internet of Things. 

Ethical issues: Safety; Health; Privacy; Transparency. 

Professional situations: Rigour; Informed consent; Misuse of data. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Gaining ethical knowledge. Knowing the sets of rules, theories, concepts, frameworks, and statements of duty, rights, or obligations that inform ethical attitudes, behaviours, and practices. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study involves an engineer hired to develop and install an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) online machine monitoring system for a manufacturing company. The developments include designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals and setting policies. The project incorporates a variety of ethical components including law and policy, stakeholders, and risk analysis. 

This case study addresses three of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): Design and Innovation (significant technical and intellectual challenges commensurate the level of study), 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 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: 

Professional organisations: 

Legal regulations: 

UN agency: 

Educational resource: 

Government sites: 

 Educational institutions: 

 

Summary: 

IIoT is a new technology that can provide accurate condition monitoring and predict component wear rates to optimise machine performance, thereby improving the machining precision of the workpiece and reducing the production cost.   

Oxconn is a company that produces auto parts. The robotic manipulators and other automation machines on the production line have been developed at considerable cost and investment, and regular production line maintenance is essential to ensure its effective operation. The current maintenance scheme is based on routine check tests which are not reliable and efficient. Therefore Oxconn has decided to install an IIoT-based machine condition monitoring system. To achieve fast responses to any machine operation issues, the machine condition data collected in real time will be transferred to a cloud server for analysis, decision making, and predictive maintenance in the future. 

 

Dilemma – Part one – Data protection on customers’ machines:

You are a leading engineer who has been hired by Oxconn to take charge of the project on the IIoT-based machine monitoring system, including designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals, setting policies, and getting the system up and running. With your background in robotic engineering and automation, you are expected to act as a technical advisor to Oxconn and liaise with the Facilities, Security, Operation, and Maintenance departments to ensure a smooth deployment. This is the first time you have worked on a project that involves real time data collection. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to do some preliminary research as to what best practices, guidance, and regulations apply. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What are the legal issues relating to machine condition monitoring? Machines’ real-time data allows for the identification of production status in a factory and is therefore considered as commercial data under GDPR and the Data Protection Act (2018). Are there rules specifically for IIoT, or are they the same no matter what technology is being used? Should IIoT regulations differ in any way? Why? 

2. Discussion: Sharing data is a legally and ethically complex field. Are there any stakeholders with which the data could be shared? For instance, is it acceptable to share the data with an artificial intelligence research group or with the public? Why, or why not? 

3. Discussion: Under GDPR, individuals must normally consent to their personal data being processed. For machine condition data, how should consent be handled in this case? 

4. Discussion: What ethical codes relate to data security and privacy in an IIoT scenario?  

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity that relates to how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered. 

6. Discussion: Based on your understanding of how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered, consider what additional risks, and what kind of risks (such as financial or operational), Oxconn might incur if depending on an entirely cloud-based system. How might these risks be mitigated from a technical and non-technical perspective? 

 

Dilemma – Part two – Computer networks security issue brought by online monitoring systems:

The project has kicked off and a senior manager requests that a user interface (UI) be established specifically for the senior management team (SMT). Through this UI, the SMT members can have access to all the real-time data via their computers or mobiles and obtain the analysis result provided by artificial intelligence technology. You realise this has implications on the risk of accessing internal operating systems via the external information interface and networks. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to investigate what platforms can be used and what risk analysis must be taken in implementation. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

The following activities focus on macro-ethics. They address the wider ethical contexts of projects like the industrial data acquisition system. 

1. Activity: Explore different manufacturers and their approaches to safety for both machines and operators. 

2. Activity: Technical integration – Undertake a technical activity related to automation engineering and information engineering. 

3. Activity: Research what happens with the data collected by IIoT. Who can access this data and how can the data analysis module manipulate the data?  

4. Activity: Develop a risk management register, taking considerations of the findings from Activity 3 as well as the aspect of putting in place data security protocols and relevant training for SMT. 

5. Discussion/activity: Use information in the Ethical Risk Assessment guide to help students consider how ethical issues are related to the risks they have just identified. 

6. Discussion: In addition to cost-benefit analysis, how can the ethical factors be considered in designing the data analysis module? 

7. Activity: Debate the appropriateness of installing and using the system for the SMT. 

8. Discussion: What responsibilities do engineers have in developing these technologies? 

 

Dilemma – Part three – Security breach and legal responsibility: 

At the beginning of operation, the IIoT system with AI algorithms improved the efficiency of production lines by updating the parameters in robot operation and product recipes automatically. Recently, however, the efficiency degradation was observed, and after investigation, there were suspicions that the rules/data in AI algorithms have been subtly changed. Developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers were all brought in to find out what’s going on. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: If there has been an illegal hack of the system, what might be the motive of cyber criminals?   

2. Discussion: What are the impacts on company business? How could the impact of cyber-attacks on businesses be minimised?

3. Discussion: How could threats that come from internal employees, vendors, contractors or partners be prevented?

4. Discussion: When a security breach happens, what are the legal responsibilities for developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers? 

 

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:
Wendy Attwell (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Balancing personal values and professional conduct in the climate emergency. 

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering; Energy and Environmental engineering; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Justice; Accountability; Social responsibility; Risk; Sustainability; Health; Public good; Respect for the law; Future generations; Societal impact. 

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Communication; Law / Policy; Integrity; Legal implications; Personal/professional reputation. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

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 involves an engineer who has to weigh personal values against professional codes of conduct when acting in the wake of the climate crisis. This case study allows students to explore motivations and justifications for courses of action that could be considered morally right but legally wrong.  

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 Parts two and three develop and complicate 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: 

Professional organisations: 

Educational institutions: 

Education and campaign groups: 

 News articles:  

 

Summary: 

Kelechi is a civil engineer in a stable job, working on the infrastructure team of a County Council that focuses on regeneration and public realm improvements. Kelechi grew up in an environment where climate change and its real impacts on people was discussed frequently. She was raised with the belief that she should live as ethically as possible, and encourage others to consider their impact on the world. These beliefs were instrumental in leading Kelechi into a career as a civil engineer, in the hope that she could use her skills and training to create a better world. In one of her engineering modules at university, Kelechi met Amanda, who encouraged her to join a student group pushing for sustainability within education and the workplace. Kelechi has had some success with this within her own job, as her employer has been willing to participate in ongoing discussions on carbon and resilience, and is open to implementing creative solutions.  

But Kelechi is becoming frustrated at the lack of larger scale change in the wake of the climate emergency. Over the years she has signed petitions and written to her representatives, then watched in dismay as each campaign failed to deliver real world carbon reduction, and as the government continued to issue new licenses for fossil fuel projects. Even her own employers have failed to engage with climate advocates pushing for further changes in local policy, changes that Kelechi believes are both achievable and necessary. Kelechi wonders what else she can do to set the UK – if not the world – on a path to net zero. 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

Scrolling through a news website, Kelechi is surprised to see a photo of her friend and ex-colleague Amanda, in a report about climate protesters being arrested. Kelechi messages Amanda to check that she’s ok, and they get into a conversation about the protests. Amanda is part of a climate protest group of STEM professionals that engages in non-violent civil disobedience. The group believes that by staging direct action protests they can raise awareness of the climate emergency and ultimately effect systemic change.  

Amanda tries to convince Kelechi to join the group and protest with them. Amanda references the second principle of the Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering: “Respect for life, law, the environment and public good.” Amanda believes that it is ok to ignore the tenet about respect for the law in an effort to safeguard the other three, and says that there have been plenty of unjust laws throughout history that have needed to be protested in order for them to be changed for the public good. She also references another part of the Statement: that engineers should ”maximise the public good and minimise both actual and potential adverse effects for their own and succeeding generations”. Amanda believes that by protesting she is actually fulfilling her duty to uphold these principles.  

Kelechi isn’t sure. She has never knowingly broken the law before, and is worried about being arrested. Kelechi consults her friend Max, who is a director of a professional engineering institution, of which Kelechi is a member. Max, whilst she has some sympathies for the aims of the group, immediately warns Kelechi away from the protests. “Forget about being arrested; you could lose your job and end your career.”  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What personal values will Kelechi have to weigh in order to decide whether or not to take part in a civil disobedience protest? 

2. Discussion: Consider the tenet of the Statement of Ethical Principles “Respect for life, law, the environment and public good.” To what extent (if at all) do the four tenets of this ethical principle come into conflict with one another in this situation? Can you think of other professional situations in which they might conflict? 

3. Discussion: Is breaking the law always unethical? Are there circumstances when breaking the law might be the ethical thing to do in the context of engineering practice? What might these circumstances be? 

4. Discussion: To what extent (if at all) does the content of the Statement of Ethical Principles make a case for or against being part of a protest where the law is broken?  

5. Discussion: Following on from the previous question – does it make a difference what is being protested, if a law is broken? For example, is protesting fossil fuels that lead to climate change different from protesting unsafe but legal building practices, such as cladding that causes a fire risk? Why? 

6. Activity: Research other professional codes of engineering: do these have clear guidelines for this situation? Assemble a bibliography of other professional codes or standards that might be relevant to this scenario. 

7. Discussion: What are the potential personal and professional risks or benefits for Kelechi if she takes part in a protest where the law is broken? 

8. Discussion: From a professional viewpoint, should Kelechi take part in the protest? What about from a personal viewpoint? 

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

After much deliberation, Kelechi decides to join the STEM protest group. Her first protest is part of a direct action to blockade a busy London bridge. To her own surprise, she finds herself volunteering to be one of two protesters who will climb the cables of the bridge. She is reassured by the risk assessment undertaken by the group before selecting her. She has climbing experience (although only from her local leisure centre), and safety equipment is provided.  

On the day of the protest, Kelechi scales the bridge. The police are called and the press arrive. Kelechi stays suspended from the bridge for 36 hours, during which time all traffic waiting to cross the bridge is halted or diverted. Eventually, Kelechi is convinced that she should climb down, and the police arrest all of the protesters.  

Later on, Kelechi is contacted by members of the press, asking for a statement about her reason for taking part in the protest. Kelechi has seen that press coverage of the protest is so far overwhelmingly negative, and poll results suggest that the majority of the public see the protesters’ actions as selfish, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous, although some have sympathy for their cause. “What if someone died because an ambulance couldn’t use the bridge?” asks someone via social media. “What about the five million deaths a year already caused by climate change?” asks another, citing a recent news article 

Kelechi would like to take the opportunity to make her voice heard – after all, that’s why she joined the protest group – but she isn’t sure whether she should mention her profession. Would it add credibility to her views? Or would she be lambasted because of it? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What professional principles or codes is Kelechi breaking or upholding by scaling the bridge?  

2. Activity: Compare the professional and ethical codes for civil engineers in the UK and elsewhere. How might they differ in their guidance for an engineer in this situation?  

3. Activity: Conduct a risk assessment for a) the protesters who have chosen to be part of this scenario, and b) members of the public who are incidentally part of this scenario. 

4. Discussion: Who would be responsible if, as a direct or indirect result of the protesters blocking the bridge, a) a member of the public died, or b) a protester died? Who is responsible for the excess deaths caused directly or indirectly by climate change? 

5. Discussion: How can Kelechi best convey to the press and public the quantitative difference between the short-term disruption caused by protests and the long-term disruption caused by climate change? 

6. Discussion: Should Kelechi give a statement to the press? If so, should she discuss her profession? What would you do in her situation? 

7. Activity: Write a statement for Kelechi to release to the press. 

8. Discussion: Suggest alternative ways of protesting that would have as much impact in the news but potentially cause less disruption to the public. 

 

Dilemma – Part three: 

Kelechi decides to speak to the press. She talks about the STEM protest group, and she specifically cites the Statement of Ethical Principles as her reason for taking part in the protest: “As a professional civil engineer, I have committed to acting within our code of ethics, which requires that I have respect for life, the environment and public good. I will not just watch lives be destroyed if I can make a difference with my actions.”  

Whilst her statement gets lots of press coverage, Kelechi is called out by the media and the public because of her profession. The professional engineering institution of which Kelechi is a member receives several complaints about her actions, some from members of the public and some from other members of the institution. “She’s bringing the civil engineering profession into disrepute,” says one complaint. “She’s endangering the public,” says another. 

It’s clear that the institution must issue a press release on the situation, and it falls to Kelechi’s friend Max, as a director of the institution, to decide what kind of statement to put out, and to recommend whether Kelechi’s membership of the institution could – or should – be revoked. Max looks closely at the institution’s Code of Professional Conduct. One part of the Code says that “Members should do nothing that in any way could diminish the high standing of the profession. This includes any aspect of a member’s personal conduct which could have a negative impact upon the profession.” Another part of the Code says: “All members shall have full regard for the public interest, particularly in relation to matters of health and safety, and in relation to the well-being of future generations.” 

As well as the institution’s Code of Conduct, Max considers the historic impact of civil resistance in achieving change, and how those engaging in such protests – such as the suffragettes in the early 1900s – could be viewed negatively at the time, whilst later being lauded for their efforts. Max wonders at what point the tide of public opinion begins to turn, and what causes this change. She knows that she has to consider the potential impacts of the statement that she puts out in the press release; how it might affect not just her friend, but the institution’s members, other potential protesters, and also her own career.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Historically, has civil resistance been instrumental or incidental in achieving systemic change? Research to find out if and when engineers have been involved in civil resistance in the past. 

2. Discussion: Could Kelechi’s actions, and the results of her actions, be interpreted as having “a negative impact on the profession”? 

3. Discussion: Looking at Kelechi’s actions, and the institution’s code of conduct, should Max recommend that Kelechi’s membership be revoked? 

4. Discussion: Which parts of the quoted code of conduct could Max emphasise or omit in her press release, and how might this affect the tone of her statement and how it could be interpreted? 

5. Activity: Debate which position Max should take in her press release: condemning the actions of the protesters as being against the institution’s code of conduct; condoning the actions as being within the code of conduct; remaining as neutral as possible in her statement. 

6. Discussion: What are the wider impacts of Max’s decision to either remain neutral, or to stand with or against Kelechi in her actions?  

7. Activity: Write a press release for the institution, taking one of the above positions. 

8. Discussion: Which other authorities or professional bodies might be impacted by Max’s decision? 

9. Discussion: What are the potential impacts of Max’s press release on the following stakeholders, and what decisions or actions might they take because of it? Kelechi; Kelechi’s employer; members of the STEM protest group; the institution; institution members; government policymakers; the media; the public; the police; fossil fuel businesses; Max’s employers; Max herself. 

 

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.

 

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Case enhancement: Water wars: managing competing water rights

Activity: Role-play the council meeting, with students playing different characters representing different perspectives.

Author: Cortney Holles (Colorado School of Mines, USA).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two, Point 6 section: “Role-play the council meeting, with students playing different characters representing different perspectives.” Below are several 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.

 

Prompts for questions:

After discussing the case in class, and completing the stakeholder mapping activity (Dilemma Part one, Point 4 – repeated below) from the Water Wars case study, this lesson guides teachers through conducting a role-play of the council meeting scenario.

1. Discuss the stakeholder mapping activity: Who are all the characters in the scenario? What are their positions and perspectives? How can you use these perspectives to understand the complexities of the situation more fully?

2. To prepare for the council meeting role-play activity, assign students in advance to take on different stakeholder roles (randomly or purposefully), or let them self-assign based on their interests.  Roles can include any of the following:

Suggestions from Stakeholder mapping activity:

Additional stakeholders to consider:

3. Before the class session in which the role-play will occur, students should research their stakeholder to get a sense of their values and motivations in regard to the case. Where no information is available, students can imagine the experiences and perspectives of the stakeholder with the goal of articulating what the stakeholder values and what motivates them to come to the council meeting to be heard on this issue. Students should prepare some statements about the stakeholder position on the water use by DSS, what the stakeholder values, and what the stakeholder proposes the solution should be. Students assigned to be council members will prepare for the role-play by learning about the conflict and writing potential questions they would want to ask of the stakeholders representing different views on the conflict.

4. In class, students prepare to role-play the council meeting by first connecting with others in the same stakeholder role (if applicable – you may have few enough students to have only one student assigned to a stakeholder) and deciding who can speak (you may want to require each student to speak or ask that one person be nominated to speak on behalf of the stakeholder group).

5. As the session begins, remind students to jot down notes from the various perspectives’ positions so there can be a debrief conversation at the end.  Challenge students to consider their personal biases and position at the outset and reflect on those positions and biases at the end of the council meeting. If they were a lead member of the council, what solution would they propose or vote for?

6. As the Council Meeting begins, the teacher should act as a moderator to guide students through the session. First the teacher will briefly highlight the issue up for discussion, then pass it to the students representing the Council members.  Council members will open the meeting with their description of the matter at hand between DSS and other local parties. They set the tone for the meeting with a call for feedback from the community members. The teacher can help the Council members call up the stakeholders in turn. Each stakeholder group will have a chance to state their argument, values, and reasons for or against DSS’ water use.  Each stakeholder will have an opportunity to suggest a proposed solution and Council members can engage in discussion with each stakeholder to clarify anything about their position that was unclear.

7. At the end of the meeting, the council members privately confer and then publicly vote on a resolution for the community.  All students, no matter their role, end the class by reflecting on the outcome and their original position on the case. Has anything shifted in their position or rationale after the council meeting? Why or why not?

8. The whole class could then engage in a discussion about the outcome of the council meeting. Teachers could focus on an analysis of how the process went, a discussion about the persuasiveness of different values and positions, and/or an exploration of the internal thinking students went through to arrive at their positions.

 

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Case enhancement: Facial recognition for access and monitoring

Activity: Prompts to facilitate discussion activities. 

Author: Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

 

Overview:

There are several points in this case during which an educator can facilitate a class discussion about relevant issues. Below are prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. 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. The discussion prompts for Dilemma Part three are already well developed in the case study, so this enhancement focuses on expanding the prompts in Parts one and two.

 

Dilemma Part one – Discussion prompts:

1. Legal Issues. Give students ten minutes to individually or in groups do some online research on GDPR and the Data Protection Act (2018). In either small groups or as a large class, discuss the following prompts. You can explain that even if a person is not an expert in the law, it is important to try to understand the legal context. Indeed, an engineer is likely to have to interpret law and policy in their work. These questions invite critical thinking and informed consideration, but they do not necessarily have “right” answers and are suggestions that can help get a conversation started.

a. Are legal policies clear about how images of living persons should be managed when they are collected by technology of this kind?

b. What aspects of these laws might an engineer designing or deploying this system need to be aware of?

c. Do you think these laws are relevant when almost everyone walking around has a digital camera connected to the internet?

d. How could engineers help address legal or policy gaps through design choices?

2. Sharing Data. Before entering into a verbal discussion, either pass out the suggested questions listed in the case study on a worksheet or project on a screen. Have students spend five or ten minutes jotting down their personal responses. To understand the complexity of the issue, students could even create a quick mind map to show how different entities (police, security company, university, research group, etc.) interact on this issue. After the students spend some time in this personal reflection, educators could ask them to pair/share—turn to the person next to them and share what they wrote down. After about five minutes of this, each pair could amalgamate with another pair, with the educator giving them the prompt to report back to the full class on where they agree or disagree about the issues and why.

3. GDPR Consent. Before discussing this case particularly, ask students to describe a situation in which they had to give GDPR consent. Did they understand what they were doing, what the implications of consent are, and why? How did they feel about the process? Do they think it’s an appropriate system? This could be done as a large group, small group, or through individual reflection. Then turn the attention to this case and describe the change of perspective required here. Now instead of being the person who is asked for consent, you are the person requiring consent. Engineers are not lawyers, but engineers often are responsible for delivering legally compliant systems. If you were the engineer in charge in this case, what steps might you take to ensure consent is handled appropriately? This question could be answered in small groups, and then each group could report back to the larger class and a discussion could follow the report-backs.

4. Institutional Complexity. The questions listed in the case study relate to the fact that the building in which the facial recognition system will be used accommodates many different stakeholders. To help students with these questions, educators could divide the class into small groups, with each group representing one of the institutions or stakeholder groups (college, hospital, MTU, students, patients, public, etc.). Have each group investigate whether regulations related to captured images are different for their stakeholders, and debate if they should be different. What considerations will the engineer in the case have to account for related to that group? The findings can then be discussed as a large class.

 

Dilemma Part two – Discussion prompts:

The following questions relate to macroethical concerns, which means that the focus is on wider ethical contexts such as fairness, equality, responsibility, and implications.

1. Benefits and Burdens. To prepare to discuss the questions listed in the case study, students could make a chart of potential harms and potential benefits of the facial recognition system. They could do this individually, in pairs or small groups, or as a large class. Educators should encourage them to think deeply and broadly on this topic, and not just focus on the immediate, short-term implications. Once this chart is made, the questions listed in the case study could be discussed as a group, and students asked to weigh up these burdens and benefits. How did they make the choices as to when a burden should outweigh a benefit or vice versa?

2. Equality and Utility. To address the questions listed in the case study, students could do some preliminary individual or small group research on the accuracy of facial recognition systems for various population groups. The questions could then be discussed in pairs, small groups, or as a large class.

3. Engineer Responsibility. Engineers are experts that have much more specific technical knowledge and understanding than the general public. Indeed, the vast majority of people have no idea how a facial recognition system works and what the legal requirements are related to it, even if they are asked to give their consent. Does an engineer therefore have more of a responsibility to make people aware and reassure them? Or is an engineer just fulfilling their duty by doing what their boss says and making the system work? What could be problematic about taking either of those approaches?

 

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Case Enhancement: Choosing to install a smart meter

Activity: Technical integration – Practical investigation of electrical energy.

Author: Mr Neil Rogers (Independent Scholar).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two, Point 1 section of the case: “Technical integration – Undertake an electrical engineering technical activity related to smart meters and the data that they collect.”

This activity involves practical tasks requiring the learner to measure parameters to enable electrical energy to be calculated in two different scenarios and then relate this to domestic energy consumption. This activity will give technical context to this case study as well as partly address two AHEP themes:

This activity is in three parts. To fully grasp the concept of electrical energy and truly contextualise what could be a remote and abstract concept to the learner, it is expected that all three parts should be completed (even though slight modifications to the equipment list are acceptable).

Learners are required to have basic (level 2) science knowledge as well as familiarity with the Multimeters and Power Supplies of the institution.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Suggested pre-reading:

To prepare for these practical activities, teachers may want to explain, or assign students to pre-read articles relating to electrical circuit theory with respect to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Activity: Practical investigation of electrical energy:

Task A: Comparing the energy consumed by incandescent bulbs with LEDs.

1. Power in a circuit.

By connecting the bulbs and LEDs in turn to the PSU with a meter in series:

a. Compare the wattage of the two devices.

b. On interpretation of their data sheets compare their luminous intensities.

c. Equate the quantity of each device to achieve a similar luminous intensity of approximately 600 Lumens (a typical household bulb equivalent).

d. now equate the wattages required to achieve this luminous intensity for the two devices.

 

2. Energy = Power x Time.

The units used by the energy providers are kWh:

a. Assuming the devices are on for 6 hours/day and 365 days/year, calculate the energy consumption in kWh for the two devices.

b. Now calculate the comparative annual cost assuming 1 kWh = 27p ! (update rate).

 

3.  Wider implications.

a. Are there any cost-benefit considerations not covered?

b. How might your findings affect consumer behaviour in ways that could either negatively or positively impact sustainability?

c. Are there any ethical factors to be considered when choosing LED lightbulbs? For instance, you might investigate minerals and materials used for manufacturing and processing and how they are extracted, or end-of-life disposal issues, or fairness of costs (both relating to production and use).

 

Task B: Using a plug-in power meter.

1. Connect the power meter to a dishwasher or washing machine and run a short 15/30 minute cycle and record the energy used in kWh.

2. Connect the power meter to a ½ filled kettle and turn on, noting the instantaneous power (in watts) and the time taken. Then calculate the energy used and compare to the power meter.

3. Connect the power meter to the fan heater and measure the instantaneous power. Now calculate the daily energy consumption in kWh for a fan heater on for 6 hours/day.

4. Appreciation of consumption of electrical energy over a 24 hour period (in kWh) is key. What are the dangers in reading instantaneous energy readings from a smart meter?

 

Task C: Calculation of typical domestic electrical energy consumption.

1. Using the list of items in Appendix A, calculate the typical electrical energy usage/day for a typical household.

2. Now compare the electrical energy costs per day and per year for these three suppliers, considering how suppliers source their energy (i.e. renewable vs fossil fuels vs nuclear etc).

 

Standing charge cost / day Cost per kWh Cost / day Cost / year
A) 48p 28p
B) 45p 31p
C) 51p 27p

 

3. Does it matter that data is collected every 30 minutes by your energy supplier? What implications might changing the collection times have?

4. With reference to Sam growing marijuana in the case, how do you think this will show up in his energy bill?

 

Appendix A: Household electrical devices power consumption:

Typical power consumption of electrical devices on standby (in Watts).

Wi-Fi router 10
TV & set top box 20
Radios & alarms 10
Dishwasher  5
Washing machine  5
Cooker & heat-ring controls 10
Gaming devices 10
Laptops x2 10

 

Typical consumption of electrical devices when active (in Watts) and assuming Gas central heating.

TV & set top box (assume 5 hours / day) 120
Dishwasher (assume 2 cycles / week) Use calculated
Washing machine (assume 2 cycles / week) Use calculated
Cooking (oven, microwave etc 1 hour / day) 1000
Gaming devices (1 hour / day) 100
Laptop ( 1 hour / day) 70
Kettle (3 times / day) Use calculated
Heating water pump (2 hours / day) 150
Electric shower (8 mins / day) 8000

 

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Theme: Universities’ and business’ shared role in regional development; Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning; Knowledge exchange; Research; Graduate employability and recruitment.

Author: Prof Matt Boyle OBE (Newcastle University).

Keywords: Electrification; Collaboration Skills; Newcastle.

Abstract: Driving the Electric Revolution is led by Newcastle and is a collaborative R&D project to build supply chains in Power Electronics Machines and Drives. The University led the bid and as we amass supply chain capability we will generate £ Billions in GVA.

 

Newcastle University has been embedded in the academic and industrial development of the North East of England since 1834. Recently, one of its core competencies, Machines and Drives research, has been used to attract investment to the region from Industry and Government helping to increase the economic prospects for the North East region.

Newcastle University is the national lead organisation for Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centres an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Wave 3 competition. The centres serve two purposes,

  1. A focal point for development of manufacturing processes in Power Electronics, Machines and Drives (PEMD) through investment in cutting edge manufacturing equipment.
  2. The training of researchers, students, employees of industrial partners on these important new processes.

The Driving the Electric Revolution (DER) Industrialisation Centres (DERIC) project aims to accelerate UK industrialisation of innovative and differentiated PEMD manufacturing and supply chain solutions. They are doing this by creating a national network to coordinate and leverage the capabilities of 35 Research and Technology Organisations (RTO) and academic establishments, based within four main centres.  Supported by 166 industrial partners it represents the largest coordinated industrialisation programme the UK PEMD sector has ever seen.

Newcastle University has, in living memory, always been at the forefront of Electric Machines and Drives innovation globally. It was inevitable that Newcastle would lead the DER project given its pedigree, reputation and the fact that it was supported by several companies in several sectors, Automotive, Aerospace and domestic products who undertake product research in the North East and who seek to manufacture in the UK if possible.

Newcastle did recognise however that it couldn’t deliver the government programme alone. There were four institutions which formed a consortium to bid into the competition, Newcastle University, University of Strathclyde, Warwick Manufacturing Group and the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult in Newport South Wales. Over time they have been joined by University of Nottingham, University of Birmingham, Swansea University and University of Warwick. Letters of support were received from 166 Industry partners, 27 FE and HE organisations expressed support as did 13 RTOs. Although the national bid was led by Newcastle, it took a more North East regional view in development of its delivery model.

Therefore, in addition to this national work, Newcastle extended their DERIC application beyond Newcastle to Sunderland where they worked with Sunderland council to establish a DERIC research facility in the area. Sunderland city council worked with Newcastle to acquire, fit out and commission the lab which received equipment from the project and is due to open in 2022.

Nationally the primary outcome is the establishment of the Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centres and the network.

The four DERIC act as focal points for the promotion of UK PEMD capabilities. They design develop and co-sponsor activities at international events. They send industrial representatives to meet with clients and research partners from UK, Europe and Asia, as well as developing a new UK event to attract leading PEMD organisations from around the globe.

In Newcastle the university’s sponsorship of both the national project as well as the DERIC in the North East is helping attract, retain and develop local innovation and investment. The equipment granted by the DER Challenge to the centre includes a Drives assembly line as well as an advanced Machines line. The DERIC is focused primarily in the development of manufacturing processes using the granted equipment. The equipment was selected specifically with these new processes in mind. The success of the DERIC program already means that the country and the region have attracted substantial inward investment.

Investments by three companies came to the North East because of the capability developed in the region. They have all agreed partnerships with the university in the process of establishing, acquiring and investing in the North East. The three companies are:

  1. British Volt mission is to accelerate the electrification of society. They make battery cells. Their Gigaplant in Northumberland will be the second Gigaplant in the UK. They are investing £1Bn into the region creating around 5,000 jobs both at the plant and in the supply chain.
  2. Envision also make batteries. Unlike British volt the Envision cell is a Gel pack. Envision has the first Gigaplant in the UK at Sunderland. They are investing a further £450M to expand the plant in Sunderland and potentially another £1.8Bn by 2030.
  3. Turntide Technologies invested £110M into the region acquiring three businesses. These have all in some fashion been supported by and supportive of the PEMD capability at Newcastle over the past six decades.

The university has worked tirelessly to help create an ecosystem in the region for decarbonisation and electrification.

The last stage of this specific activity is the creation of the trained employees for this new North East future. The university, collaborating across the country with DER partners, is embarking on an ambitious plan to help educate, train and upskill the engineers, scientists and operators to support these developments. It is doing this by collaborating, for the North East requirement, with the other universities and further education colleges in the region. Industry is getting involved by delivering a demand signal for its requirements. The education, training and up skilling of thousands of people over the next few years will require substantial investments by both the educators in the region as well as industry.

As the pace of electrification of common internally combusted applications accelerates the need for innovation in the three main components of electrification, power source, drive and machine will grow substantially. The country needs more electrification expertise. The North East region has many of the basic building blocks for a successful future in electrification. Newcastle University and its Academic and Industrial partners have shown the way ahead by collaborating, leading to substantial inward investment which will inevitably lead to greater economic prosperity for the region. Further information is available from the Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centres website. In addition, there are annual reports and many events hosted, sponsored or attended by the centres.

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.

Theme: Universities’ and business’ shared role in regional development 

Authors: Amer Gaffar (Manchester Metropolitan University); Dr Ian Madley (Manchester Metropolitan University); Prof Bamidele Adebisi (Manchester Metropolitan University).

Keywords: Decarbonisation; Local Energy; Skills; Economic Growth.

Abstract: Greater Manchester (GM) has committed to carbon neutrality by 2038. There is a 97m tonnes carbon emission gap between solutions currently available and a net zero budget. To bridge this innovation gap under the leadership of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority the agency brings together: Bruntwood, Hitachi, MMU, UoM, GM Growth Company, SSE and UoS to support R&D and innovation initiatives focused on customer pull to enable rapid deployment of new and emerging technologies, services and business models to meet the challenge of GM becoming a carbon neutral city-region by 2038, drive skills development and deliver economic growth.

 

The need for an Energy Innovation Agency

The Mayor for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has committed the city region to carbon neutrality by 2038.  An analysis of the implications of the Paris Climate Change Agreement for Greater Manchester (GM) (Figure 1) has identified that there is a 97m tonnes carbon emission gap between solutions currently available and the actions needed to reach net zero.  We refer to this as the Innovation Gap.

 
Figure 1 GM Net Zero Carbon Budget and implementation pathways. Source GM 5-year Environment Plan [1]

 

[2] Unconstrained implementation of Scatter methods
Achievable implementation of Scatter methods

 

To bridge the GM innovation gap under the leadership of GMCA the agency brings together: Bruntwood, Hitachi, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester, SSE and  University of Salford to support R&D and innovation initiatives focused on customer pull to enable rapid deployment of new and emerging technologies, services and business models (energy innovations) to meet the challenge of GM becoming a carbon neutral city-region by 2038, driving skills development and delivering economic growth.

Forming the Energy Innovation Agency

GMCA initially approached the city’s three universities to seek advice on how their academic expertise could be harnessed to help bridge the innovation gap.  This quickly led to discussions between each of the universities that identified a wide pool of complementary, and largely non-competitive, areas of research expertise that could address the gap (Figure 2).      

Figure 2 Research expertise by university partner – darker colour indicates a greater depth of expertise in the area.

 

It was also clear that the timescales needed to deliver city wide change would not fit within a traditional academic approach to research and knowledge transfer that required a public-private partnership.

At the core of this partnership approach are three key components.

Using existing networks, a core team comprising GMCA, Bruntwood, Hitachi, MMU, UoM, SSE and UoS came together to develop the business plan for the agency and to jointly provide the funding for the first three-years of the operation of the agency.

Vision, Aims and Objectives

To accelerate the energy transition towards a carbon-neutral economy by bridging the energy innovation gap, increasing the deployment of innovative energy solutions in GM and beyond, to speed-up the reduction of carbon emissions.

Aims:

  1. Innovation Exploitation: supporting and scaling the most promising decarbonised energy innovations to maximise the early adoption of effective carbon-neutral energy systems.
  2. Decarbonisation: reducing Greater Manchester’s carbon emissions from energy to meet our ambitious target to be a carbon-neutral city region by 2038
  3. Rapid Commercialisation: rapid transition of carbon-neutral energy innovations to full-scale integration.
  4. Investment: creating and promoting investment opportunities for carbon-neutral energy innovations and projects in the city region.

Objectives:

Scope

With a population of 2.8 million covering 1,277 km2 the ten metropolitan boroughs of GMCA comprises the second most populous urban area in the UK, outside of London. The scope and potential for the Energy Innovation Agency is huge.

 

Figure 3 GMCA Energy Transition Region showing local authority boundaries.

 

Establishing the GM-city region area as an Energy Transition Region will provide the opportunity to develop the scale of deployment necessary to go beyond small-scale demonstration projects and develop the supply chains that can be replicated as a blue-print  elsewhere in urban environments across the UK and internationally.

Progress to date

Following the investment by the founding partners a management team has been established within GMCA’s subsidiary “The Growth Company”.  An independent board chaired by Peter Emery CEO ENWL has also been established.

The formal launch event will take place on 28th April 2022, at which a first challenge to the innovation community to bring forward solutions to decarbonise non-domestic buildings  will be set.

Key contacts and further information

Energy Innovation Agency

Case Study

Amer Gaffar, Director Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre, Manchester Metropolitan University a.gaffar@mmu.ac.uk

References

[1] https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/media/1986/5-year-plan-branded_3.pdf

[2] Kuriakose, J., Anderson, K., Broderick, J., & Mclachlan, C. (2018). Quantifying the implications of the Paris Agreement for Greater Manchester. https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/83000155/Tyndall_Quantifying_Paris_for_Manchester_Report_FINAL_PUBLISHED_rev1.pdf

 

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

Topic: Data centres’ impact on sustainable water resources.

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering, Electronic engineering.

Ethical issues: Sustainability, Respect for environment, Future generations, Risk, Societal impact.

Professional situations: Law or policy, Communication, Integrity.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practise ethical judgement. Ethical Judgment is the activity of thinking about whether something has a moral attribute. Judgments involve reaching moral decisions and providing the rationale for those decisions.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves a situation where environmental damage may be occurring despite the mechanism causing this damage being permissible by law. The engineer at this centre of the case is to represent the company that is responsible for the potential damage, at a council meeting. It requires the engineer to weigh up various harms and goods, and make a decision that could seriously impact their own job or career. There is also a section at the end of this case study that contains technical information providing further details about the water cooling of ICT equipment.

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.

Students have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Summary:

The company Data Storage Solutions (DSS) has built a large data centre on land that was historically used for agriculture and owned by a farming operation. DSS was incorporated as a subsidiary of the farming company so that it could retain the water rights that were attached to the property. This ensured access to the large amount of water needed to cool their servers. This centre manages data from a variety of sources including the local hospital and university.

When the property was used as a farm, the farming operation never used its full allocation of water. Now, the data centre always uses the maximum amount legally allotted to it. For the rainy half of the year, this isn’t a problem. However, in more arid months, the nearby river almost runs dry, resulting in large volumes of fish dying. Other farmers in the area have complained that the water level in their wells has dropped, making irrigation much more expensive and challenging.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are a civil engineer working for DSS and have been requested by your boss to represent the company at a forthcoming local council meeting where the issue will be discussed. Your employer is sending you to justify the company’s actions and defend them against accusations of causing an environmental hazard in the local area which is reducing the water table for farmers and affecting local biodiversity. Your boss has told you that DSS has a right to the water and that it does not intend to change its behaviour. This meeting promises to be a contentious one as the local Green party and farmers’ union have indicated that they will be challenging the company’s water usage. How will you prepare for the meeting?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – What is your initial position on the issue? Do you see anything wrong with DSS’s water use? Why, or why not?

2. Discussion: Professional responsibilities – What ethical principles and codes of conduct are relevant to this situation?

3. Activity: Define and identify the relevant data you should compile to take to the meeting. What information do you need in order to be prepared?

4. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – Who are all the characters in the scenario? What are their positions and perspectives? How can you use these perspectives to understand the complexities of the situation more fully? Examples include:

Data Storage Solutions

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity such as civil and / or electronic engineering related to the measurement of stream flow and calculating data centre cooling needs.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

As you prepare for the meeting, you reflect on several competing issues. For instance, you are an employee of DSS and have a responsibility to represent its interests, but can see that the company’s actions are environmentally harmful. You appreciate that the data centre is vital for the local community, including the safe running of schools and hospitals, and that its operation requires sufficient water for cooling. Your boss has told you that you must not admit responsibility for any environmental damage or biodiversity loss. You also happen to know that a new green battery plant is planning to open nearby that will create more data demand and has the potential to further increase DSS’s water use. You know that obtaining water from other sources will be costly to DSS and may not be practically possible, let alone commercially viable. What course of action will you pursue?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Debate what course of action you should take. Should you take the company line despite knowing about the environmental impacts? Should you risk your reputation or career? What responsibilities do you have to fellow employees, the community, and the environment?

2. Activity: Risk analysis – What are the short- and long- term burdens and benefits of each course of action? Should environmental concerns outweigh others? Is there a difference between the environment locally and globally?

3. Activity and discussion: Read Sandra Postel’s case for a Water Ethic, and consider New Zealand’s recent legislation that gives a rainforest the same rights as a human. With this in mind, does the stream have a right to thrive? Do the fish have a right to a sustainable environment? Are humans ultimately at risk here, or just the environment? Does that answer change your decision? Why?

4. Activity: Prepare a statement for the council meeting. What will you argue?

5. Activity: The students should interrogate the pros and cons of each possible course of action including the ethical, the practical, the cost, the local relationship and the reputational damage implications. They should decide on their own preferred course of action and explain why the balance of pros and cons is preferable to other options. The students may wish to consider this from other perspectives, such as:

6. Activity: Role-play the council meeting, with students playing different characters representing different perspectives.

7. Activity: Allow students to reflect on how this case study has enabled them to see the situation from different angles, and whether this has helped them to understand the ethical concerns and come to an acceptable conclusion.

 

Annex – Accompanying technical information:

ICT equipment generates heat and so most devices must have a mechanism to manage their temperature. Drawing cool air over hot metal transfers heat energy to that air, which is then pushed out into the environment. This works because the computer temperature is usually higher than the surrounding air. There are several different mechanisms for data centre cooling, but the general approach involves chillers reducing air temperature by cooling water – typically to 7–10 °C, which is then used as a heat transfer mechanism. Some data centres use cooling towers where external air travels across a wet media so that the water evaporates. Fans expel the hot, wet air and the cooled water is recirculated. Other data centres use adiabatic economisers – where water is sprayed directly into the air flow, or onto a heat exchange surface, thereby cooling the air entering the data centre. With both techniques the evaporation results in water loss. A small 1 MW data centre using one of these types of traditional cooling can use around 25.5 million litres of water per year. Data centre water efficiency deserves greater attention. Annual reports show water consumption for cooling directly paid for by the operator, so there is an economic incentive to increase efficiency. As the total energy share of cooling has fallen with improving PUEs (Power Usage Effectiveness metric), the focus has been on electricity consumption, and so water has been a low priority for the industry. However, the largest contributor to the water footprint of a data centre is electricity generation. Where data centres own and operate the entire facility, there is more flexibility for exploring alternative sources of water, and different techniques for keeping ICT equipment cool.

 

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.

 

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