The rapid transformation taking place in the electrical energy sector demands new education programs to meet the expertise needs of industry, nonprofits, and government agencies. [Disclosure: This is a sponsored post from University of San Francisco]
While conventional engineering and business degrees will continue to be helpful, the increased complexity in the energy sector, particularly the electricity sector, increases the need for interdisciplinary trained employees who understand the new energy landscape.
Technological, organizational, policy, and financial innovations are changing the way customers, communities, and companies are interacting with their public utility and energy needs. Community choice aggregation, microgrids, home generation with feed-in tariffs, distributed energy, renewable energy certificates, and programs to encourage energy efficiency are growing more common.
These changes involve increasing levels of customer engagement, new financing schemes, and new technologies as well as new challenges to grid reliability. It really is a brave new world in the electricity sector. These changes are not only here to stay, they will become the dominant paradigm as more states and countries adopt policies to promote renewable energy in the face of climate change and international agreements, and as technology cost changes lead to new value propositions. Add the future changes to the vehicle fleet and many companies as well as government agencies will be struggling to keep up.
New Opportunities for Renewable Jobs & Education
Along with these changes in the electricity sector come new employment opportunities in renewable energy production, energy management, energy regulation, energy finance, energy planning, etc. Approximately 4% of current job openings in the US relate to energy.
However, there are limited opportunities for students to gain a broad education in this new field. There are conventional engineering programs and increasingly specialized engineering programs focused on renewable energy and storage technologies. Students can also obtain a business degree and then apply the skills and knowledge they gain to energy management. However, to be able to operate at a high level in this new world, having an interdisciplinary education in energy technology, economics, policy, and strategy would allow graduates to support their organization – whether private, public, or nonprofit – at a high level.
A number of interdisciplinary energy programs exist and more have been developed over the past few years. The Energy and Resources Group (ERG) at the University of California Berkeley is an outstanding interdisciplinary program (my degree is from there) but it is small and highly competitive. Stanford University offers the Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies Certificate.
And the Tulane Master of Management in Energy is a well-designed interdisciplinary program focusing on renewable energy. The University of Denver offers a Master of Energy and Sustainability, New York Institute of Technology offers an MS in Energy Management, and Northeastern University offers an MS in Energy Systems. Many of these programs are somewhat engineering focused rather than business focused.
‘Systems Thinking’ with USF’s Energy Systems Management Degree
To meet the educational needs for the new low-carbon energy economy in the San Francisco Bay Area, the University of San Francisco will be offering an innovative new M.S. in Energy Systems Management starting fall 2017.
The curriculum for this program was developed from the bottom up through sessions with an advisory board composed of industry experts. Board members include representatives from SunPower, Pacific Gas and Electric, the California Public Utility Commission, the California Independent System Operators, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and Advanced Microgrid Systems.
The focus is on systems thinking, tools, and knowledge for the new energy systems. The program will cover renewable energy economics and finance, energy strategy and policy, electricity markets, and leadership skills, along with technology courses that cover the grid and renewable energy technologies and quantitative tools used by energy managers. Students will have the option to complete an internship or final project. The program can be completed in 18 months and courses are on evening and weekend so students can work while in the program.
In the face of climate change, we need to move rapidly to low-carbon energy use. Many parts of the world, California in particular, are making rapid strides but we need to move faster to avert dire impacts to our climate. Educating leaders for this next economy will help facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy and support organizations transitioning to thrive in this changing landscape.
USF will be hosting an informational meeting at the downtown campus about the new program Feb 8, 2017. Find more details here.
About the Author: Dr. Maggie Winslow is an Associate Professor and Program Director for the Master of Science in Energy Systems Management at the University of San Francisco. Previously, she was a professor of economics and the Academic Dean at Presidio Graduate School. She has taught at UC Berkeley, Antioch University, the Central European University, and for the Conservation Strategy Fund. She has also been a researcher for Redefining Progress, the Pacific Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Conservation Law Foundation, and Lawrence Berkeley Lab where she worked on the economics of energy efficiency. She has a BA in Political Science from Williams College, a MS from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, and PhD from the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley.
This article was sponsored by University of San Francisco; images from NREL, used with permission