Student Insights from the International Summer School

12 Jul 2023

Authors: Oyinebielador Derrick Odondiri, David Eshun, Jaqueline de Oliveira Brotto, Tolulope Falope and Idris Bukar

The International Summer School in “Global Just Transition: Equity in Net Zero” took place on 19-23th June 2023, in Newcastle (UK). The event aimed to unite international researchers from different areas – engineering, politics, law and social sciences – in training and development activities, all with a common goal: to discuss the global implementation of Net Zero. The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) was responsible for the organization together with seven other research consortia and institutions: HI-ACTSupergen Energy Networks HubEnergy Transitions Centre CambridgeIDLESFaraday InstitutionCREDS, UKCCSRC and Energy Research Accelerator. During the week, attendees were able to participate in lectures, networking, poster presentations, technical visits and the challenge of proposing scenarios for Developing a Green Growth Strategy for Zambia.

Day 1 – by David Eshun

The weather on the first day was refreshing and the city of Newcastle was welcoming with some magnificent architectural works. After the initial registration and exchange of pleasantries among participants, the International Summer School commenced with a welcoming address, which spelt out the activities lined up for the week and underscored the need for a fair and just transition. Two presentations were made about the journey of energy transitions in Scotland and those of Ghana, outlining some successes made, challenges and the possibility of attaining net zero carbon in the timeframes set. There was an exposé on a Equity, Diversity and Inclusion tool, known as the “EDI Cube”, a necessary tool that could be used in future projects.

A session on communication skills then talked about the importance of communicating one’s research effectively to the appreciation of the target audience, without suffering the plague of the “curse of knowledge”. The last session of the day was a panel discussion on “What to Look for in a Pitch”. The speakers shared their experiences and practical ways they’ve dealt with challenges in their careers.


Day 2 – by Tolulope Falope

Global Equity: Knowledge Exchange Showcase

The first session focused on knowledge exchange. Dr. Ala’a Shehabi, the chair of the panel, gave some background and an introduction. The first speaker, Prof. Karen Henwood, spoke about mobilising energy and industrial decarbonisation transition trajectories in FLEXIS. She also spoke about some of the methodologies her team were adopting in the case study of Port L’Hebert, and the advantages of working in a transdisciplinary research team.

Dr. Felix Dorn focused on ethnographic field research on lithium mining in Latin America, particularly in Argentina. He focused on the impact of this mining on indigenous people, highlighting its effect on water in the area. Dr. Felix emphasised the importance of a subjective approach (neutrality, information sharing and mutual learning), while engaging with communities. He talked about methodological pluralism, using interviews, standard questionnaires, photography and videography in his research, drawing on the documentary “Bajo La Sal” that he produced to highlight the realities of mining. He also discussed the community classes organised to help people understand the value chain of lithium so that they are better informed during negotiations with the mining companies.

Thembi Luckett spoke on developing feminist and creative collaborations in South Africa.  She focused on Marapong, a location with coal deposits for coal-powered plants in the region. Thembi and her team used “Body Mapping” to show the effects of coal mining on women, culminating in a body mapping exhibition. She then introduced individuals she is working with: Cleopatra and Francisca. Cleopatra spoke about “energy racism” and noted that even though the region produces coal to fuel the power station, the inhabitants don’t have access to electricity. She also highlighted impacts on local businesses because electricity is critical to scaling and sustaining businesses. She made a plea for researchers to engage directly with issues on the ground and not from their offices or behind laptops. Francisca then provided an overview of the area, stating it was a prominent farming district, but that all changed when the miners arrived – the power plant that was constructed, is the fourth biggest in the hemisphere. She mirrored a lot of Cleopatra’s points on collaboration between academics and end users. She also spoke about the difficulties in accessing finance and her difficulty in getting a visa to present her findings at the Summer School.

Abiba Mayaki Diallo was unable to speak because of her remote location but a representative spoke on her behalf. The NGO she developed, Kana Donse Fanyi, was founded in 1992 to help fight against malnutrition and poverty by reducing food waste through conserving agricultural products. Their objectives include training local women on how to process, conserve, produce and market their agricultural products, whilst also educating about healthy diets and creating healthy baby food. Their core net zero vision is reducing food waste and encouraging people to adopt a healthy diet. Their current project, funded by Alcoa Foundation, aims to increase food security, and reduce food waste in the mining area. Through the project, 45 women are trained on optimising food process to reduce waste. A processing unit, a solar dryer and a cereal grinding mill have been installed by the project sponsor. She highlighted limited access to financing and access to technology as barriers to transitioning to net zero.

Academic Sessions

We then split into two groups for the next session. I attended the ‘Industrial Energy System Integration and Flexibility’ session where Meysam Qadrdan spoke on maximising flexibility through energy systems integration. He started by focusing on how balancing supply and demand is key for maintaining the system frequency. The National Grid is obliged to maintain the frequency within 1%. If demand is greater than supply, frequency goes below 50 Hz and vice versa. Traditionally, demand has been driven by consumer consumption. Meysam concluded that we must have flexibility in supply and demand to maintain a stable grid. He was followed by Padriag Lyon who spoke on the International Energy Research Centre’s (IERC) climate action plan work in Ireland. The Climate Action Plan 2023 aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and a reduction of 51% by 2030. He also drew a contrast between the UK and Ireland, with the former having a grid system peak of 55 GW while Ireland peaks at 5.7 GW. With a clear mapping of Ireland’s assets, limitations and expertise, Padriag gave us a clear road map to achieve net-zero unique to Ireland.

Site Visit to DER Industrialisation Centre 

Our team went on a visit to the Driving the Electric Revolution (DER) North-East Industrialisation Centre. It was riveting and Professor Derrick Holliday talked us through a lot of the machines installed on-site. He explained what each machine does and how they can be used to scale production while reducing manufacturing lead times. It was interesting to see how their approach in perfecting the manufacturing process covers testing, design and validation for many businesses using power electronics, machines, and electronic drives.

Networking Event: Poster Session

The day ended with participants showcasing their research in a poster presentation. We were given enough time to engage with researchers and quiz them on their work. The posters were diverse and reflected a broad spectrum of competencies centred around energy. In all, it was a very information-packed filled day, and I was glad that I got to attend.

Day 3 – by Idris Bukar

Wednesday began with a session on building international partnerships in the journey to global equity in net zero. Experiences were shared by speakers from diverse organisations including Energy Research Accelerator/HyDEX and Love the Oceans, a non-profit marine conservation organisation. This was followed by an interactive session where the participants explored alternative social theories for equity, justice and sustainability in the energy transition. The session involved setting the scene by the chair, Rihab Khalid (University of Cambridge), followed by discussions in groups in response to prompts.

The session then broke into two parallel academic sessions – one on addressing energy demand and economics, and the other discussing energy governance and environmental justice. The highlight of the session on energy demand was an analysis of electricity demand data, showing a real example of how electricity demand varied on a particular day in the UK, including how a football match involving England produced distinct patterns in the energy demand curve.

It was on this day as well that the group project was introduced: developing a green growth strategy for Zambia. The session began with an introduction to thinking about future scenarios in social and technical systems. The socio-economic and energy context of Zambia was presented to provide background and inform any strategies to be developed as to how they would interact with the realities on the ground. A green growth context was also presented, highlighting Zambia’s current efforts to transition to a green economy. The session was chaired by Katherine Sugar (University of Edinburgh), and the scenario was presented by Nick Hughes (UCL). Experts in the room who provided the socio-economic, energy and green growth context of Zambia included Bernard Tembo (Tec Analytics Zambia) and Mulima Nyambe‑Mubanga (Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research).

Site visits continued, with groups of participants visiting the Industrialisation Centre and Integrated Transport Electricity Gas Research Laboratory (InTEGReL), a fully integrated whole energy systems development and demonstration facility. InTEGReL is accelerating the hydrogen market in the North of England by producing low carbon energy for electricity, transportation and gas. The site visit included going to a demonstration house where hydrogen is used for cooking, heating and other domestic uses.

The final session for the day was one on the importance of networking, highlighting key techniques, chaired by Elizabeth Adams (Scafell Coaching).

Day 4 – by Oyinebielador Derrick Odondiri

On Thursday, students embarked on the team project introduced the day before. We were privileged to have experts from academia, industry and the Ministry of Green Energy in Zambia deliver presentations that shed light on the challenges ahead. These presentations and ensuing discussions opened our minds to think beyond our technical backgrounds, urging us to consider inclusion and just transitions in relation to the roles of the Government, international donor agencies, energy utilization, transportation, agriculture, the influence of politics and other key actors in Zambia.

To kick-start our brainstorming process, we were divided into ten groups. Each group was assigned the task of developing a green growth strategy for Zambia by 2063. Additionally, we were given the assignment of preparing a 2-3 page brief addressing the question: “How can the transformation of the energy system between now and 2063 contribute to a just transition in Zambia?” We were also encouraged to create a presentation for the Ministry, which we were scheduled to deliver the following day.

Later in the day, we engaged in a session focused on building career skills and developing our research identities. This session was truly inspiring as it provided us with an opportunity to connect with each other, both in person and via LinkedIn. We delved into various barriers that hinder students from establishing meaningful connections.

The day concluded with a dinner party at the Vermont Hotel. As we savoured the delicious meals, our minds were already occupied with thoughts of the upcoming presentations scheduled for 9:00am the next day.

Day 5 – by Jaqueline de Oliveira Brotto

On the last day of the Summer School, we had the presentation of scenarios for Developing a Green Growth Strategy for Zambia. In total, 10 groups participated, and each group had five minutes to present their strategy. At the end of the presentations, the jury gathered to elect the best groups in three different categories: presentation/pitch, briefing and both.

Initially, the five best posters exhibited during the International Summer School were elected, followed by the awarding of the groups on Strategy for Zambia. The best pitch/presentation category went to Group 5, which presented hybrid approach scenarios that included green, inclusive and flexible, presenting the project in short-, mid- and long-term. The best briefing category went to Group 3 who presented the scenarios: “Human-centric, welfare approach – rural development via PV mini-grids and biomass to energy” and “Industrial diversification – green economy growth and decent employment”. Finally, the category of best briefing and best presentation/pitch went to Group 7, which presented the scenarios entitled: “Solar Powered Rural Zambia” and “Biomass for the Masses”. It was five days of much-shared knowledge, lectures, visits, networking and brainstorming. The knowledge and experience shared and acquired during those days were invaluable. Thank you to all involved.

This blog originally appeared on the UKCCSRC Website.