At the moment, countries in the southern African region suffer from acute and insufficient energy supply. Renewable energy technologies are a welcome opportunity, but their uptake is undermined by skills shortages.
Shortage of electricity is not atypical in southern Africa. Lesotho and Namibia have a low rate of electrification, at 21% and 47%, respectively. They depend on the South African energy system, which relies heavily on coal power. Ironically, South Africa has encountered blackouts in its own power system since 2008. Short of supply, South Africa is also under pressure to cut its carbon (CO2) emissions.
And yet, highly skilled experts and institutions for renewable energy are few and far between. Currently, learning for renewable energy takes place primarily in vocational schools and universities. Problematically, fresh graduates are not always ideally equipped to meet the labour market needs.
Novel and innovative approaches are required to tackle future challenges
The National University of Lesotho’s (NUL) main campus is in Roma, 40 kilometres from Maseru, which is Lesotho’s capital. There, NUL already provides short courses on renewable energy across a range of topics: renewable energy and energy efficiency, bioenergy, solar photovoltaics (PV), solar thermal, wind energy, hydropower, energy policy, economics and finance, and engineering design for rural villages.
NUL and Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), are currently developing MSc in Sustainable Energy programmes. In relation to these efforts, a one-week long curriculum workshop was organised in the National University of Lesotho in February.
As an outcome of the curriculum workshop, eight southern African and three European research partners, including University of Turku, submitted an Erasmus+ research proposal for enhanced renewable energy education. The research partners also attended a local advisory board meeting and explored future collaboration opportunities.
Energy must be studied in a holistic manner
Quality scientific research and teaching ensure that learning on sustainable technologies is a meaningul experience to local students.
One topic raised during the week was the significance of socio-cultural factors in renewable energy related education. Here, international collaborations and exchanging lessons learned may have a supportive role.
In the University of Turku, Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC) hosts research projects that address energy systems change together with social and environmental change. One such example is Neo-Carbon Energy (2014-2017) project, which studies a future energy system that uses high shares of solar and wind energy.
Scaling up locally-driven solutions
Under the right circumstances, education can improve the probability of future generations to cope in a changing world. In thinking of future labour market needs, societal change has to be anticipated.
At the same time, it is important to be pragmatic. In preparing for such changes, strenghtening local research, teaching, innovation and management capacities is a good starting point.
In preparation of the launch of a Master’s Programme in Sustainable Energy at the National University of Lesotho, Joni Karjalainen from the University of Turku, Finland Futures Research Centre attended the MSc in Sustainable Energy curriculum workshop on February 6-10, 2017. The research collaboration was facilitated by UniPID – FinCEAL Plus Africa and Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP).
This article has also been published at UniPID FinCEAL website: http://www.unipid.fi/en/news/361/future-oriented_education_and_societally_relevant_skills_for_sustainable_energy_in_lesotho/
Text and figures: Joni Karjalainen, University of Turku, Finland Futures Research Centre
Photos: Joni Karjalainen / FFRC, Moeketsi Mpholo / NUL.