Graduate Education for the Energy Transition

Hopefully the Energy Systems Management program at USF and other similar program will facilitate this future before we make more of a mess of the planet.

As recent events have made abundantly clear, we are changing the climate and it is already having profound effects on our wellbeing. Things are only going to get worse for us humans and other living creatures if we don’t act quickly to reduce our use of fossil fuels. While there are many means for reducing our carbon emissions including energy conservation, reducing our consumption, decreasing packaging, etc. one area where we can move quickly is decarbonizing the electrical grid and the transportation sector. We have the technology. The prices of renewables and storage continue to fall and some sources of renewable energy can compete with fossil generation. We have successful policy options to facilitate the growth of renewables. In some places, remarkable progress has been made in the past ten years.

However, there is limited understanding of how these three aspects of the transition – technology, economics, and policy – can work together to hasten the transition. To that end, the University of San Francisco is offering a new, interdisciplinary graduate degree that focuses on the skills and knowledge needed to work in the rapidly-changing energy economy. The program includes courses on renewable energy technologies, power systems and the grid, renewable energy economics and finance, electricity markets, and energy policy. The curriculum was developed with the help of advisors from government agencies (CAISO and California PUC), PG&E, LBNL, the Nature Conservancy, and the private sector (MCE, SunPower, STEM, Canadian Solar among others).

A first cohort of eighteen students from around the world started the program this fall. It is a dynamic and engaged group, mostly with engineering background but also coming from public policy, finance, architecture, and international studies. Their studies will include guest speakers from government and industry, field trips, hand-on projects, and internship opportunities. The classes meet in the evenings in downtown San Francisco so students can work while in the program.

The energy transition is not just about climate change. The environmental and social benefits from reducing our use of fossil fuels include reducing urban air pollution, and all of the benefits that stem from this including fewer premature deaths, reduced water pollution, fewer despoiled landscapes, less traffic noise, as well as ecological benefits. A new study in Nature Energy put these benefits at $30 billion to $113 billion annually. There is so much to gain from the energy transition in terms of jobs, public health benefits, cleaner air and water, it’s hard not to be excited about the renewable energy future.

We are living in a challenging time but the transition to renewable energy is a bright light. The renewable, distributed energy future seemed like a pipe dream 20 years ago but technological advances (hardware and software), declining costs, and institutional flexibility have made the transition possible and even inevitable. Educating more people with the knowledge and skills needed to support the transition and be a leader in the new energy economy is essential. Hopefully the Energy Systems Management program at USF and other similar program will facilitate this future before we make more of a mess of the planet.

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