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Academia and the energy sector

Oct 29: Over the last couple of decades, the global energy scenario has been substantially transformed. Energy demand and supply markets have grown manifold at national and international levels, new technologies have emerged, energy-related challenges have increased and so have prospects.

Universities being human capacity enhancement centres that accomplish the objective through teaching, research and partnership with other stakeholders in society have proactively responded to the progression in the energy sector.

The subject of energy has evolved greatly in universities across the world - energy departments have grown both in number and size, the curriculum has evolved, a greater number of energy engineers and professionals with a wide range of expertise is being produced, research has surged, collaboration with industrial and commercial bodies has been boosted and public awareness has hit new levels.

Particularly in the developed countries, universities are leaders in national energy sustainability frameworks in terms of solution provision, human resource development and policymaking processes. Most universities offer undergraduate, postgraduate and research degree programmes in the core areas of energy. Some countries are incorporating the subject of energy as an essential part of the university curriculum. In Scotland for example, every university is bound to offer at least one programme in the area of energy and sustainability.

Contrary to that, universities in Pakistan have not given due consideration to energy as it is still being treated as a routine and insignificant subject. None of the aforementioned trends have found their way into Pakistani universities. The credentials - a few universities producing power engineers in small numbers and one or two others producing nuclear and petroleum engineers - are far from satisfactory.

The energy-related challenges facing Pakistan are enormous. A severe energy crisis has already dawned upon the country. Along with other stakeholders, universities have a crucial contribution to make. What Pakistan particularly lacks is qualified human resource in the form of energy scientists, engineers and professionals that could analyse energy-related problems facing the country both at the macro and micro levels and synthesise value-engineered solutions.

The energy challenges facing Pakistan - a massive gap between demand and supply, depleting gas reserves, rocketing energy prices, energy security and across the board inefficient use of energy - are too mammoth for the humble energy engineers (both in numbers and variety) our universities currently produce.

It is alarming that there is not a single holistic energy department in any Pakistani university. In order to ensure a sustainable energy scenario for the country, universities need to deliver competent and qualified human resource with expertise in a diverse range of energy areas. Universities must produce experts in the areas of both conventional (hydropower, oil, gas, coal and nuclear) and non-conventional (solar, wind, biomass and wave) energy systems, in energy trading, energy conservation and management, and in energy security and risk assessment.

These experts should be aware of the crucial role of energy in economic, social and environmental development. They should be aware of the global geopolitics of energy. They should have a broad understanding of the science of energy and be aware of the challenges facing local and global energy scenarios and prospects so as to be able to deliver visionary policies to bail the country out of the energy crisis.

There is another dimension to the issue of energy and the below par performance of academia that does not allow the entire blame to be placed on the academia. Universities to some extent have to deliver a product (graduate) that is desirable in the market (industry). Industry in Pakistan has failed to comprehend the essence and scope of this area - mastering in design and development of energy systems (i.e. turbines, engines and generators) and formulating innovative solutions is like asking for too much.

Even in its own domain, industry has not been able to ensure the efficient use of energy by applying energy conservation and management practices. Industry has not created a demand for energy engineers and professionals to be met by universities.

Thus in order to bring about a healthy change, industry ought to come forward to help universities not only accommodate energy graduates but also boost research and development activities. At the same time, universities also have to be appreciative of the need to develop a partnership with industry.

There are some new universities in the private sector that are in the process of establishing engineering departments. Having performed well in other areas of social sciences, it was expected of them to entertain the subject of energy when taking the physical sciences on board. But surprisingly, none of them have given any deliberation to it and have opted for traditional subjects that are already being widely taught in the country.

Universities both in the public and private sector have to realise that the subject of energy is as much an applied science as any other. They must enlist energy departments in their priorities and make a meaningful contribution to help the country resolve its energy crisis. The curriculum has to be redesigned. Human resources have to be developed. Research must be initiated and an academic-industrial partnership must be forged.

It is also worth noting that energy is a billion dollar business. Careful estimates indicate that in the short term alone Pakistan needs multibillions invested in the energy sector in order to address the present energy crisis. On a medium- to long-term basis, it is going to require tens of billions of dollars if a sustainable energy future is to be ensured. Logically and fairly, universities can also win handsome business by providing consultancy services to industry.Universities thus in their own and the national interest should rise to the occasion. Recently, the Higher Education Commission introduced some commendable policies to promote research-oriented activities in universities. The HEC should make extra and immediate efforts to establish proactive energy departments in several universities in the country equipped with state of the art resources to get business (education, research and development) underway.

Lastly, for how long will we keep hiring foreign experts to do site surveys, prepare feasibility reports, and provide and install energy systems? Who else can best answer this question but the academia, the industry and the relevant policymakers?

The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK

By Dr M. Asif Email: (Dawn)

Your Comments

"its an excellent article and offers a lot of food for thought for relevant authorities."
Name: Saqib hasan
City, Country: islamabad, Pakistan

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