Boosting alternative energy training in universities

The Africa-European Union Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme, or RECP, is shaping renewable energy market development with support for training the next generation of energy professionals and promoting renewable energy research in Africa.

RECP, under the political leadership of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership, supports African institutions in the areas of higher education, vocational training and research cooperation.

“More than 50 African and European institutions active in renewable energy teaching and research have been involved in the conceptual phase of RECP’s higher education component,” Niklas Hayek, RECP project manager, told University World News last month.

The initiative is currently preparing specific support and cooperation activities in collaboration with the Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences at University Abou Bekr Belkaid Tlemcen in Algeria, the University of Zimbabwe, Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

“RECP is constantly extending its network to foster knowledge exchange and cooperation between universities in Africa and Europe,” Hayek said.

RECP is being implemented by the EU Energy Initiative Partnership Dialogue Facility – EUEI PDF – which is being funded by the European Commission, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

EUEI PDF is an instrument of the EU Energy Initiative, which according to its website is assisting in the creation of enabling environments for investments in sustainable energy markets in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Pacific.

Skills and jobs

“Renewable energy markets with all their benefits – to energy access, a more sustainable energy supply as well as increased electricity generation – will only develop if the required skills and capacities exist,” said Hayek.

“The availability of skilled labour will strongly support, if not drive, the implementation of renewable energy projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and further contribute local value addition in manufacturing, assembly, project design, operation and maintenance.”

He said renewable energy technologies were not only a future-oriented technology choice for Africa but could also have a significant impact on employment rates.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, renewable energy market penetration is responsible for the creation of more than 6.5 million jobs worldwide.

Hayek said RECP was providing support to higher education and vocational institutions and promoting Africa-EU exchange on education, training and research. Thus, it was focusing “more on technical assistance and facilitation of partnerships than on financial support”.

Skills in renewable energy would be massively required if Africa was to tap into its substantial renewable energy resources, Hayek pointed out.

Only 10% of the continent’s hydropower potential is being utilised, the vast potential for solar is nearly untouched, wind energy resources have barely been exploited and geothermal energy will play an increasing role in the near future.

“It is necessary to establish renewable energy as an economically and ecologically more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels and to assist emerging activities as well as identify project opportunities.”

Hayek said that while exploitation of fossil energy sources was required to sustain the growth of African economies, renewable energies were developing as competitive sources of energy that could enhance energy security and support pro-poor growth and sustainable development.

“RECP’s objective is to support market development for renewable energy technologies in Africa through policy advisory services, private sector cooperation, access to finance and innovation and skills development,” he added.

Work so far

Since the RECP launch in 2011, it has mainly offered policy advisory services such as the development of a tariff structure for renewable energy in Senegal, supportive framework conditions for green mini-grids in the Southern African Development Community, and the development of a policy toolkit for mini-grid project developers and decision-makers.

In the area of innovation and skills development, RECP developed two thematic studies in 2014, assessing the status and requirements of education and training for renewable energy in Africa, and designing RECP support interventions.

The study on vocational training identified interventions that should be made regarding national curricula for renewable energy technologies, adapting existing curricula, training-the-trainers and developing course materials for specific institutes.

Work on accreditation of certain certificates, setting teaching standards and promoting gender issues in technical courses were highlighted as part of specific interventions.

In higher education, research sought to identify gaps in renewable energy masters courses already on offer across Africa, with a bias on entrepreneurship and adaptability to poor resource settings. A curriculum model drawing on experiences from Africa and Europe was designed.

The study also summarised the state of higher education for renewable energy in Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe and proposed potential support activities.