Human demand for once-abundance natural resources now exceeds what the earth can renew by more than 60 percent, according to the Global Footprint Network. One of the biggest challenges facing humankind moving forward? Energy. And while one approach involves continued reliance on harmful fossil fuels until they run out completely, another has a very different and sustainable strategy at its core: switching the focus to renewable energy resources. Here’s a closer look at this innovative solution, along with how you can become involved in the vital effort to power the planet while simultaneously protecting it.
Why Renewable Energies are the Future
The U.S. Energy Administration recently forecast renewable energies to be the fastest-growing power source through the year 2040. Which begs the question: What makes “renewable energies” such an important area? While the world has long relied on fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, for energy, these are nonrenewable -- meaning they draw on finite resources which are not only dwindling, but also increasingly expensive and environmentally destructive.
Conversely, renewable energies -- the most prominent being solar, wind and hydropower, but also including biomass, geothermal, ocean and others -- can be perpetually created or recreated. In other words, they are self-sustaining and so never run out on the timescale on mankind.
Countries all over the world are turning to renewable energies in the hopes of reversing our dependence on fossil fuels and harnessing the full potential of new technologies. Says Dr. Martin Heinrich, an administrator and instructor at Germany’s University of Freiburg, “Slowly governments and decision makers realized that renewable energies may allow a sustaining electricity generation for the future, which also avoids the huge emission of greenhouse gasses and dependencies on oil producing countries. This has been shown by the COP21 agreement in Paris and also companies such as BP, Shell, Total, Statoil, Repsol and Eni starting to invest into renewable energies or into methods of reducing oil and gas usage.”
In the US alone, investments in the renewable energies sector rose from $8 billion in the first quarter of 2004 to $50 billion in 2015’s first quarter, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, with more utilities companies investing in alternative energy solutions.
Within the RE sector, meanwhile, wind energy is taking an increasingly prominent position, according to the University of Kassel’s Dr. André Bisevic: “[2015 and 2016] were two impressive years for the wind industry worldwide. In 2016, 54,6 GW were installed all over the world. Especially the strong appetite for wind energy in China is responsible for this development. It can be assumed that the increasing demand will continue in the coming years. According to estimates of the highly reputable Massachusetts of Technology (MIT), wind power could supply circa 26 percent of China´s projected electricity demand in the next 15 years.” The result? Positive environmental and economic effects around the globe.
The Job Market Is Booming
On a macroscopic scale, renewable energies have the power to change the world. But we also need people to make that happen -- specifically, people with the knowledge and expertise to understand and implement renewable energies. Because of this, the field is developing at a staggering pace, and is expected to continue to do so in the decades ahead.
According to HowStuffWorks, “With increasing government and private funding of renewable energy, the industry as a whole is exploding, and along with it the number of potential jobs in the green-power sector…If there were such a thing as a sure thing, expansion in green-energy employment opportunities would be it. It's a huge market, encompassing solar power, wind power, geothermal energy, biofuels and hydropower, for a start. Research and development are ongoing, large-scale capability is increasing, and real-world implementation of renewable-energy technologies is growing by the day.”
Echoes Heinrich, “The huge interest by governments and companies worldwide increases the need for qualified personnel in the field of renewables and solar energy.”
Looking to Germany
Germany is leading the pack when it comes to renewable energies, and largely regarded as an example to the rest of the world. Not only is the country pioneering new renewable energy technologies and applications, but it’s also aggressively rejecting fossil fuels toward the ambitious goal of cutting carbon emissions by at least 80 percent by the year 2050.
According to a National Geographic piece on Germany’s energy revolution, “While most countries have been free riders, Germany has behaved differently: It has ridden out ahead. And in so doing, it has made the journey easier for the rest of us.”
It follows that Germany’s higher education institutions would also be pioneers in teaching in this field. Says Heinrich of the country’s teaching role since officially passing its Renewable Energies Law (“Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz”) more than a decade ago, “This period of 12 years of experiencing the impact of renewable energies in the electricity mix for a huge economy like Germany helped to push the development of solar energy and renewables and it created a huge amount of knowledge in this subject in Germany….Now that renewable energies are cost competitive with other technologies and are more and more employed in other countries, the people in Germany would like to aid adopters all over the world to repeat the great success by avoiding all the obstacles and mistakes.”
Consider the Fraunhofer Academy, which comprises the renewable energies programs offered by the University of Freiburg and the University of Kassel, where Heinrich manages the school’s Solar Energy Engineering program and André Bisevic coordinates the Master in Wind Energy Systems.
For students looking to make their own contributions in the field, these programs offer critical knowledge, training and experience . For example, students in the Solar Energy Engineering program have the chance to develop, design, and optimize solar energy devices and systems with real, world-changing potential.
Meanwhile, Fraunhofer’s Wind Energy Systems program -- offered by the University of Kassel in scientific partnership with Fraunhofer -- aims to further wind power research and technology. According to Dr. Bisevic, the Online M.Sc. in Wind Energy Systems addresses how to manage the technical and economic integration of a large amount of wind energy into the energy supplier system as well as the design and development of innovative concepts for the single components of the wind energy converter system, including the nacelle system, the rotor blade and the support structures.
As if safeguarding the planet for future generations and a robust job market aren’t reason enough for people to pursue studies in this fascinating field, Heinrich points out yet another incentive. Particularly for students with interests in engineering, math and the natural sciences, the subject of renewable energies is compelling one thanks to the richness of its scientific and technological concepts involved.
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