Education to Inspire Innovation and Impact in Renewable Energy

Solar and Wind Energy
What happens when 300 professors across Mexico gain a working knowledge of renewable energy, financing infrastructure, and leadership for sustainability? 

We cannot solve the greatest challenges to health by working in isolation. That is why our Sustainable Technologies and Health team led an innovative educational program to give nearly 300 Mexican university professors and researchers a working knowledge of renewable energies, energy efficiency, financing for renewable infrastructure, and leadership for sustainability. 

These educators and researchers came from indigenous communities, where land owners hold some of the best wind, hydro, geothermal, and solar resources in the world. These land owners are not usually included as partners when developing large-scale renewable energy projects, which endangers the long-term stability of these ventures and presents a lost opportunity to scale innovation. Phase I of our “Applied Leadership Program in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency” project aimed to solve this problem.

Dr. Ramon Sanchez, Director of our Sustainable Technologies and Health program, worked with our advisory board member, Francisco Acuña, CEO of InTrust Global Investments, to leverage higher education as an engine for social innovation and green economic growth. This education program was supported by the Mexican Secretariat of Energy and aimed to reduce the country’s carbon footprint in the energy sector, helping to achieve their goal to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

The course took place in several locations across Mexico from September 2014 to June 2015, and InTrust Global Investments encapsulated the experience in the documentary, Paradigm Shift. Watch the trailer below:

Course topics included design of renewable energy projects, water conservation, energy efficiency, sustainable stakeholder engagement, intellectual property, estimation of human health effects of electricity generation, advanced energy storage systems, and funding options for sustainable projects. 

Students achieved some remarkable outcomes: 

  • 286 university professors and researchers graduated from the program
  • 93 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects started in Mexico due to this program
  • 6 patents related to renewable energy and energy efficiency were filed by our graduates

We are now planning Phase II, which will continue to educate professors from public and indigenous universities while also using nearby renewable energy infrastructure as “living labs” for teaching. We will use a renewable energy project as a learning tool to prepare college students to become leaders in different aspects of the green economy. For example:

  • Lawyers will deal with the legal rights for land and legislation related to protecting indigenous communities, health, and the environment by promoting social impact assessments for any new renewable energy project and by setting climate change preparedness goals at a state or national level.
     
  • Engineers will learn how to design large-scale wind and solar farms, how to design and operate a bio-refinery, how to manage the global supply chain to build renewable infrastructure, siting considerations, technical and operational considerations when building and managing a renewable energy site, and how to assess greenhouse gas and toxic emissions reduced, among other related concepts.
     
  • Accountants, business managers, and financial professionals will learn how to prepare business propositions for renewable energy projects and how to finance them in international markets, as well as how to manage a large-scale energy operation.
     
  • Marketing professionals will learn how to sell renewable energy to corporate and public utilities off-takers, establishing the benefits of clean energy and the new trends related to consumers in this green market.
     
  • Public health and environmental professionals will determine the health and environmental benefits of new renewable infrastructure, as well as reductions in scarcity damages for depleting natural resources for future generations, etc.

If you would like to explore launching a similar project in your community, please contact us at techandhealth@hsph.harvard.edu.

Photo bo Pixabay | seagul | Public Domain