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Training in Sustainable Energy*
As the world copes with the future challenges of climate change, pollution, and the likelihood of higher priced petroleum, growing attention has been cast on “sustainable energy” to help meet these challenges. Sustainable energy, namely the increased use of both energy efficiency and renewable energy to deliver energy services, is clearly important for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The region depends heavily—and at an increasing rate—on petroleum, especially for the pollution-producing transportation sector, and it is using more electricity generated by natural gas—a producer of greenhouse gases—to substitute for hydroelectricity which relies on increasingly unreliable rainfall.
But a major barrier for implementing sustainable energy in LAC is having the trained personnel to put it into operation: policymakers to design and implement sustainable energy policy and programs; architects and builders to construct “green” buildings; transportation engineers and urban planners to develop good land-use plans friendly to green public transportation and walking; electricity system personnel to adapt systems to renewable technologies and energy efficiency strategies; fuels experts to develop alternative transportation fuels and engineers to design the vehicles to use these fuels; and blue collar workers to build the needed buildings, urban and transportation systems, vehicles and renewable energy facilities.
This is a tall order and one that the region is not yet prepared to handle. For the past 15 years I have taught a course, one of the few in the world, called “Energy, Environment and Development in Developing Countries” at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) that focuses on the sustainable energy potential in developing countries, including LAC, as well as the policies to realize that potential. At best, 20 percent of the class members each year are from LAC; so the class’ contribution to the tremendous need in the region has been minimal so far.
But courses such as this should be taught in every country in LAC, addressing the unique elements of each country, elements such as:
- The higher usage of buses for public transportation than anywhere else in the developing world;
- The higher ownership rate of private vehicles than elsewhere in the developing world;
- The greatest usage of biofuels in transportation fleets in the world; and
- The highest usage of large hydro dams in the overall electricity supply mix than anywhere else in the world along with the substantial potential for small hydroelectricity generation.
Moreover, if sustainable energy is to be seriously addressed in LAC, appropriate sustainable energy modules need to be introduced throughout educational and training curricula in the region: in political science departments, architectural schools, urban planning departments, and engineering schools, to name a few. Serious consideration should also be given to introducing such modules in on-line curricula and in vocational education. As an example, a community college in California now offers a wind energy technician “boot camp”. Boot camps for technicians in all aspects of sustainable energy implementation in LAC could offer the region a significant leg up in being able to meet its needs.
The opportunity exists for LAC to become a leader in education and training in sustainable energy, and, with this training, a leader in sustainable energy implementation. Not only would such training enable the region to better cope with the challenges of climate change, pollution, and growing petroleum dependence, but it would also foster the development of a twenty-first century economy for the region, with training for the types of jobs demanded by that economy. The test is to turn this opportunity into a reality.
Energy, Resources and Environment Program
Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflecte those of the OAS or of its member states. The opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the authors.