Issues in Renewable Energy Education

By Thomas, Chacko; Jennings, Philip et al. | Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Issues in Renewable Energy Education


Thomas, Chacko, Jennings, Philip, Lloyd, Bob, Australian Journal of Environmental Education


Introduction

The consumption of energy plays a pivotal role in the economic development of the industrialised world. Approximately 80% of the world's total primary energy consumption is accounted for by fossil fuels and this poses a significant challenge for the future as oil production peaks and begins to decline and we simultaneously face anthropogenic climate change caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.

The twin threats of climate change and oil depletion leading to energy insecurity in both the industrialised and developing world are driving an increase in demand for renewable energy generation. Approximately $30 billion was invested in new renewable energy technologies in 2004 excluding large hydro projects, which saw an additional investment of $20-25 billion, mostly in developing countries (Martinot, 2005). With the increasing maturity of these technologies, research and development (R&D) efforts and government subsidies, this amount is set to increase further. Currently there is some 160 GW of installed renewable energy capacity worldwide, with 44% (70 GW) of this capacity located in developing countries (Martinot, 2005).

Renewable energy (RE) is the fastest growing of all the energy industries today, and is now worth US$42 billion per annum (ACF, 2006). Of the different renewable energy technologies, grid-connected solar power has the highest global growth rate at 60% per annum, followed by wind at an average growth rate of 28% per annum (Martinot, 2005). Even the Australian Renewable Energy industry, though lacklustre by international standards, grew by 26% last year. A groundbreaking study, conducted by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association, predicts that there will be some 78,000 jobs generated in RE industries in Australia by the year 2020 (EPIA, 2007) and many more worldwide. Figure 1 provides a comparison of the growth rates of different renewable energy technologies with fossil fuels and nuclear power.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Although the underlying principles of renewable energy technologies are founded in traditional scientific and engineering subjects, their design and deployment strategies can be considerably different. In addition they need to be deployed in a sustainable manner with a commitment to long term energy supply. The timing of peak oil is now expected to occur somewhere between 2006 and 2012 (Lloyd, 2007). Thus there is some considerable urgency for researchers, technicians, analysts, planners and engineers with specific training in renewable energy technologies (ACCC, 2004).

The Availability of Renewable Energy Courses

Presently there appears to be an insufficient number of people training in the fields of energy studies and renewable energy technologies. Although there is significant diversity in the courses offered and research undertaken in existing graduate programs there are still a number of issues that need to be addressed. In order to test this hypothesis a survey was carried out in Australia and New Zealand. A questionnaire was sent to all universities in Australia and New Zealand and they were asked to provide information about RE course offerings at the university level. The courses available include undergraduate and postgraduate programs which are offered on a coursework or research basis on various aspects of renewable energy. This includes courses in RE technology, energy efficiency, energy management and energy policy and planning. The detailed, tabulated results of this survey have been published elsewhere (Thomas, Jennings & Lloyd, 2008). This paper focuses on the issues that arose from the survey and their broader, international implications.

Undergraduate Courses

Australia and New Zealand have 45 universities. Only three Australian universities (Australian National University, University of New South Wales and Murdoch University) offer full undergraduate degree courses in renewable energy engineering or energy studies. …

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