The Key to an Equitable Energy Transition: Empowering the Local Clean Energy Workforce
The first Caribbean cohort of utility professionals in the Energy Transition Academy’s Global Fellowship Program reflect on their experience as they transition to program alumni and future mentors.
For Clyde Potter, developing clean and resilient energy systems is about fighting for his community. “One of the reasons people focus on clean energy goals is to combat climate change,” says Potter, a fellow with RMI’s Energy Transition Academy (ETA) and an electrical engineer and metering foreman with the British Virgin Islands Electricity Corporation. “But in the Caribbean, our efforts are to stop hurricanes from getting worse.” Potter describes the need for resilient energy systems in the Caribbean because of frequent hurricanes that bring winds of up to 230 miles per hour. After going through the ETA’s capacity development program, Potter says, “I can now work on resilient renewable energy projects and showcase what I have learned from the program for my community to have access to electricity after experiencing a hurricane.”
Capacity development — building the human and institutional talent to do the work — is a key pillar often overlooked in the energy transition as the world looks to meet global climate goals. For countries to truly achieve an equitable energy transition within the context of their individual emissions reduction pledges, capacity development (skills training, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange, and hands-on learning) will be a critical tool for building resilient clean energy sources.
That is why the ETA launched the Global Fellowship Program: to equip energy professionals with the knowledge and resources they need to lead the clean energy projects of today and tomorrow. The participants in the first cohort of the Global Fellowship Program are now transitioning to alumni, having been empowered through technical training, hands-on experience, and connection to a growing network and community of practitioners.
Reflections from Island Energy Leaders
The inaugural cohort comprised five utility professionals from three Caribbean states, which are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. This year alone, hurricanes Ian and Fiona caused blackouts across multiple island countries. Moreover, many of the islands’ grids are not designed for the increasingly strong storms that pass through the Caribbean. Although local leaders and communities are working to strengthen climate resilience themselves through renewable energy and microgrids, many Caribbean utilities do not have enough capacity to manage complex planning processes, overcome policy and regulatory barriers, and train their staff on the technologies needed to build a cleaner, more resilient energy system.
Beginning in January 2022, the inaugural fellowship program focused on project development and management for Caribbean utility professionals who are actively advancing solar-plus-microgrid systems. After three months of online engagement sessions that delivered trainings on topics such as project development, de-risking, procurement, and battery energy storage systems, fellows spent the rest of the year working side by side with RMI’s Islands Energy Program team to gain in-person and hands-on experience developing and implementing microgrid projects in their home countries. Participating utilities included U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA), Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), and British Virgin Islands Electricity Cooperation (BVIEC), which together are implementing 50 MW of solar-plus-storage projects over the next three years.
Lorenza Carey, a project manager from BPL and an ETA fellow, describes the fellowship as “a place where people of like minds could collaborate — [the fellowship] shows a new way of thinking on how we can mitigate and truly transition the energy sector.”
Marquis McGregor, the system planning manager with WAPA, notes, “the program overall is very fluid and tailored to the individuals in the course. The Fellows Summit at the end is the cherry on top; being able to see a project fully implemented is a very important part of the program and fellows’ experience.”
A key aim of the fellowship program is to provide an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning and sharing of best practices and challenges in developing distributed energy projects. As the fellowship comes to an end for the five fellows, they continue their journey as energy champions with more skills and tools, plus a community and resources to develop, manage, and implement clean energy projects. Now the fellows can share what they have learned over the past year with their utility colleagues, and they are better equipped to lead clean energy projects for their communities.
Shiquoi Isaac, an ETA fellow and mechanical engineer from WAPA, shared that his utility has a clear vision to increase renewables and that “the fellowship has helped progress and accelerate [US Virgin Islands] microgrid projects — now we are more prepared to take them on. We have just about all the information that we need to proceed.” After Isaac’s experience with the fellowship, he says that WAPA “is more confident that they can lower utility rates, lower health risks from diesel generation, and decrease [the US Virgin Islands’] carbon footprint.”
Expanding the Network
The first cohort of fellows are now transitioning to alumni, but their journey with RMI’s Energy Transition Academy will continue. Fellow alumni become part of a larger and constantly growing community and network of energy practitioners around the world dedicated to accelerating clean energy projects. Not only will they engage with future fellows, but they will act as mentors for the new fellowship cohorts and share their knowledge as they continue to implement renewable energy projects in their countries.
Building on the success of the inaugural Caribbean cohort of the Global Fellowship Program, the ETA has expanded the program considerably in the region in close collaboration with the Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC). The program now includes 15 Caribbean countries, 14 utilities, two governments, and a total of 28 energy professionals. CARILEC and RMI have joined forces to promote skills development and peer-networking opportunities for additional CARILEC member utilities, with the aim of continuing to grow and expand the program over time.
Working to build capacity across the Global South — where needs, challenges, and opportunities vary widely — is a tall order, and working in isolation is not an option. Partnerships to build momentum with regional offerings are an imperative part of empowering the future workforce that will drive a clean, equitable, and resilient energy transition.
Coinciding with the conclusion of the inaugural fellowship cohort in the Caribbean, the ETA launched the first fellowship cohort for Nigerian Distribution Companies (DisCos). In the first cohort, 20 energy practitioners and four participating DisCos will focus on advancing grid-connected renewable energy projects.
To learn more about the Energy Transition Academy’s Global Fellowship Program and the energy practitioners involved, visit https://energytransitionacademy.net.