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View the documentPostgraduate course in renewable energies

Postgraduate course in renewable energies

Preparing for Interdisciplinary Work
Postgraduate course in renewable energies
by Konrad Blum

Since 1987, the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany, has offered a special training course for experts from developing countries. The "Renewable Energy Group" organizes the postgraduate programme "Renewable Energies". This twelve-month Master of Science course has been designed for applicants who have completed at least a four year BSc degree or equivalent academic training in science or engineering.

Forms of renewable energy (RE) like small-scale hydropower, biogas, biomass, wind and solar energy, have been investigated and developed to technological maturity, but in general are not installed or utilised because of special problems.

One of the difficulties for RE extension programmes is the unavailability of skilled personnel for the design, installation and maintenance of these energy systems.

Also, funding schemes for RE installations require different policies, compared to traditional technologies, and therefore the decision-makers in the financial systems have to be aware of these requirements.

Renewable energy is a non-subject in the engineering and science syllabuses of the majority of Third World universities (this may now be slowly changing). Therefore, young professionals, who want to qualify in this area up to now had to attend special postgraduate programmes at the few centres worldwide which offer MSc courses in the desired subject.

As renewable energy technologies are a new field with rapidly changing paradigms, the postgraduate program-mes have to be embedded in a research group or institute with appropriate links to other groups in order to assemble all the teaching specialists for the courses, and to be able to keep up with progress in the field.

Target Groups

If young specialists from Third World countries are studying for some years in Europe or America, they often lose contact with the realities in their home country and may later hesitate to go back. In order to support the upgrading of manpower in developing countries with respect to Renewable Energy extension for rural and remote areas, professionals with some years of work experience in the field of energy and rural development seem to be the natural target group for further training in postgraduate programmes on Renewable Energy.

These specialists have a career perspective that they want to improve by attending an MSc course, and their return to their respective employment is most probable. Therefore, a postgraduate programme should not be designed as a conveyer belt for further academic qualification, but prepare for broad interdisciplinary work in the 'real world'.


The participants of the postgraduate course 'Renewable Energies' at the University of Oldenburg study scientific principles of renewable energy use and learn how to combine energy converters and storage components efficiently in a complex supply system. Furthermore, they are encouraged to consider ecological, economic, geographical, and cultural conditions and the side-effects of the introduction of decentralised energy systems in a real social context.

The core courses are:

- Scientific principles of renewable energy sources
- Technical feasibility of renewable energy systems
- Economic conditions for the use of renewable energy
- Components of small-scale energy supply systems (laboratory courses)
- Analysis, simulation, and design of energy supply systems (computer-based training)
- Case studies: analysis and design of selected small-scale energy supply projects in remote areas
- Contacts with companies and organisations in the field of renewable energy sources
- Experimental work and a thesis on a subject related to the participants' future occupation.

The course consists of lectures, seminars and laboratory courses at the University and external practical training with relevant organisations and companies. Necessary theoretical knowledge and practical skill are acquired during the first part of the course.

Case studies

The second half of the course is dedicated to case studies and the development of solutions to specific problems in rural regions of the Third World (i.e. training directed at the participants' future needs).

For this, experts from development organisations or consultancies give short courses. Excursions to manufacturers, sites of installations and research institutes are organised. In addition classes on theory and laboratory courses are continued. The subject of the Master thesis evolves from the participant's special interest, the laboratory courses and the experience gained during the external practical training. It should be related to the participant's future professional occupation.


From the very beginning course alumni -about 115 since 1987 -have been encouraged to remain in contact with the Oldenburg programme.

A biannual newsletter, which mostly contains articles on past, present or (selected) future participants, is sent out to all ex-participants, and is one medium of follow-up.

Another is the organisation of regional seminars for alumni, which are sponsored by DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and help to make connections between alumni working in the same area but who left the course in different years.

A number of faxes and letters from former participants are received each week at Oldenburg University with requests for addresses, or articles on some specific subject.

The new media (e-mail, Internet) are also actively used to establish good and fast communications between alumni, participants and the staff in Oldenburg. Infor-mation about the course and application details are also provided by these means.

Where do our alumni mainly work after the course? More than half of them hold jobs in the energy field (in consultancies, companies, energy boards, rural extension programmes and research institutes). Some have started further academic training (about one quarter) and about one fifth are not in the field of renewable energies.

Follow up-evaluation

At present an indisciplinary study (a Phd project in Oldenburg University) on the effect of the Oldenburg course on the career perspectives and professional orientation of alumni is underway. A preliminary analysis of their work situation shows the following:

- Over 50% of graduates are actively involved in RE
- About 25% has decided to continue studying
- About 20% is not active in RE.

Further results of the study are expected soon.


At present the course has a duration of twelve months including the thesis and exams. The course language is English. The continuous inflow of new subjects (e.g. computer-based methods like simulation and design) and the suggestion of students to invest more time for their special interests during the course has led to considerations to extend the course duration and change the structure of the curriculum.

There are also plans for cooperation projects with universities in non-European countries, which are about to establish their own MSc programme in RE engineering and want to use the Oldenburg experience for their start-up period.

The working group of the ISES (International Solar Energy Society) on education has been formed (under the name International Association for Solar Energy Education - IASEE) and is forming national chapters who are helping to establish education and training on renewable energies at professional and academic level. The group in Oldenburg is actively taking part in these efforts at the national and international level.

The Oldenburg Summer School on Wind and Photovoltaic Technology has been a successful addition to the existing MSc programme, especially for counterparts of bilateral projects of the German ELDORADO programme which aims at dissemination of renewable energies and is financed by the Ministry of Research and Technology.
Contact address:

Dr. Konrad Blum
Faculty of Physics
University of Oldenburg
P.O. Box 2503
D-26111 Oldenburg, Germany

Fax: +49 441 798 3326
Phone: +49 441 798 3544
Telex: 25655 unol d

Konrad Blum is responsible for the coordination and administration of the Postgraduate Course on Renewable Energies at Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg.