AGF-853 Sustainable Arctic Energy Exploration and Development (5 ECTS)

View of Longyearbyen from the harbour

Autumn semester (June–July), every second year. Next course: 2023
5 ECTS with AGF-353
Letter grade (A through F)
About 175 pages of scientific articles and technical reports, plus lecture notes.
10/20 students (AGF-353/853 in total)
February 15, 2023


Lars Henrik Smedsrud
Lars Henrik Smedsrud
Adjunct Professor, Physical Oceanography

UNIS contact person: Ragnheid Skogseth

Course requirements:

Enrolment in a PhD programme. Priority will be given to students working with sustainable energy from either a natural or societal scientific basis.

Academic content:

The course will provide an interdisciplinary survey of tools for assessing the merit, challenges, and risks of different potential renewable energy exploration and development choices in the rapidly changing Arctic.

Learning outcomes

Successful students in this course will be able to identify key considerations, assess strengths and weaknesses of different disciplinary approaches, and be able to marshal appropriate information to develop a targeted set of recommendations for sustainable harvesting and use of energy in the Arctic.

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • be able to discuss terminology in energy production, distribution and storage in remote polar areas
  • have knowledge about present energy use and production in Longyearbyen
  • be able to describe and understand present challenges in Arctic energy supply and use, both locally (in Longyearbyen) and across the Arctic
  • understand present-day considerations about Arctic energy development technically, environmentally, as well as socially
  • identify strengths, weaknesses, and the most important interactions between different disciplinary perspectives.

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • define a scope of work that is tractable, but that also represents a meaningful academic contribution
  • apply appropriate disciplinary theory to analyze, describe and criticize opportunities, challenges, and risks in future Arctic energy development.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • be able to analyze present energy use, and have insight into how energy can be supplied and used more sustainably in polar regions in the future
  • generate new competency by integrating lecture and written material with preexisting knowledge
  • gather necessary information from lecturers, students, and other resources in a small group project
  • effectively communicate practical recommendations on energy production in oral and written form
  • have experience in leading a multi-disciplinary team towards a common goal.

Learning activities:

The course extends over ca. 3 weeks including compulsory safety training and is run in combination with AGF-353. Required advanced reading will provide a survey of relevant issues and background knowledge as well as selected case studies. Lectures will provide a foundational disciplinary framework for analysis. Group exercises as well as excursions and fieldwork will be used to apply knowledge from lectures and written material.  Individuals will be tasked with compiling a subset of the information required by their group in the self-study time. Groups will have ample time to integrate their knowledge and assessment into a written recommendation in the form of a white paper and an oral presentation on their recommendation. See bottom of page for possible white paper subjects.

The excursions and field work vary from year to year but is based on visits to local energy producers and users (power station, coal mine, airport, sports hall). Plans are ongoing to also do a small fjord-cruise to examine locations for wind, wave and tidal energy production.

Total lecture hours: 30 hours
Total group exercises and writing sessions: 16 hours
Excursions and fieldwork: 2 days

Compulsory learning activities:

Participating in all excursions and fieldwork, as well as at least 80% of the lectures.
Leading the written group projects (i.e. the white paper) and the oral group presentations.
One individual oral presentation of a provided paper (approximately 15 min).

All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to be registered for the final assessment.


Method Time Percentage of final grade
 White paper  Submitted after the course 70%
 Oral presentation 30%

A revised and final version of the white paper shall be submitted by the group about 4 weeks after the oral presentation.

Each assessment is graded and subsequently combined into a single grade. Partial grades for each assessment will be available.

Application deadline: 15 February 2023


Suggested student projects that will be the basis for the white papers, these can be modified by the students:

  1. How effective is energy use in the Arctic? Locally in Longyearbyen or pan-Arctic.
    Using energy effectively is one of the best ways to lower environmental impact because both production, storage and transport usually requires energy use too. Are there systematic difference between the Arctic and warmer regions?
  2. Impact of different new sustainable energy sources. Locally or Arctic wide.
    Any production of energy will have an impact on the surrounding environment, but the impact may differ substantially regionally. This task should seek to give an impact overview to guide decision makers in the future.
  3. Social acceptance of sustainable energy – are Arctic people ready for change?
    This task would require making interviews with the local people in Longyearbyen, and estimate their willingness to make substantial changes in their lives.
  4. Snowmobiles in 2030 on Hydrogen or batteries?
    Driving snowmobiles is one of the major leisure activities in Longyearbyen, and quality of life would be very different if people should let go of this activity in a sustainable future. Can they run or batteries – or hydrogen?
  5. Electric cars in Longyearbyen – good or bad?
    Electric energy is coal based in Longyearbyen, so electrical cars does not necessarily lead to less CO2 release. Electric cars also have issues with heating.
  6. Is solar and wind energy enough for Longyearbyen?
    Based upon the wind and sunshine statistics of Longyearbyen, the sizes of a wind or a combined wind and sun power system should be estimated. An energy storage will be needed, the options of electrical batteries, hydrogen etc. should be considered and evaluated.
  7. Hydrogen as the main source and storage of energy in the Arctic.
    Hydrogen is one of the most promising energy sources that can provide long-term storage and also be shipped much like fossil fuel today. What are the challenges for using Hydrogen in cold environments?
  8. Personal economy of energy use.
    Should we all invest in big batteries and solar roofs in our houses? How is this different in the Arctic, where all the sun is in the summer, and we need a lot of heating in the winter?
  9. The development of energy in the Arctic as a potential source of international conflict.
    As the Arctic region becomes more accessible, to what extent will the exploration and development of energy resources increase conflict between states? How might diplomacy and forums like the Arctic Council address international tensions?
  10. The “free heating” paradox.
    Today, Longyearbyen has abundant hot water for heating. The hot water is “free waste energy” from the coal fired electrical power plant. If a transition to power production from renewable sources is taking place, this free hot water supply will disappear. Use of heat pumps utilizing seawater or shallow geothermal energy may then be an option. What will such a heating system look like? What kind of system sizes are needed, what is the impact of improved insulation of houses?

AGF-353/853 excursion in the Russian settlement Barentsburg. Photo: Lars Henrik Smedsrud/UNIS.

power plant Barentsburg

AGF-353/853 visit to the power plant in Barentsburg. Photo: Lars Henrik Smedsrud/UNIS.

power plant Longyearbyen

At the power plant in Longyearbyen. Photo: Lars Henrik Smedsrud/UNIS.

Mine 3 Longyearbyen

AGF-353/853 guided tour in the old Mine 3 in Longyearbyen. Photo: Lars Henrik Smedsrud/UNIS.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The University Centre in Svalbard
Telephone: +47 79 02 33 00
Student inquiries:
E-mail: /
Address: P.O. Box 156 N-9171 Longyearbyen
Org. no. 985 204 454


UNIS logo
Arctic Education and Research for Global Challenges

Newsletter signup

Mobile menu toggle