International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Emerging undergraduate sustainable energy engineering programs in Canada and beyond : a review and analytic comparison McPherson, Madeleine M.; Karney, Bryan W.


Faced with global climate change and many other challenges, our energy system is transforming from a centralized, fossil-fuel dependent, utility-dominated infrastructure system to a decentralized, sustainable, “smart” network. As this transition clarifies, academics and practitioners from multiple disciplines are rethinking the way society frames, delivers, and uses energy. Successfully navigating this transformation calls for systems-thinkers who are capable of diagnosing increasingly complex energy problems and delivering robust, integrated, interdisciplinary solutions. As leaders in education innovation, universities have a distinct role in cultivating a new education framework and generation of systems-thinkers. Hiring committees, educators, and students alike are responding to this call, resulting in the emergence of novel undergraduate sustainable energy engineering programs. In particular, engineers’ training in thermodynamics and electrical principles provides the technical foundation of energy systems, which could be augmented with broader sustainable energy proficiency: for example through discourse around the economic and political factors that govern the energy system and the society in which the energy system resides. Each of these emerging programs has a unique specialization, set of learning outcomes, and organizational structure, inviting reflection on their relative strengths and weaknesses. We compare several of these programs, including the University of Toronto’s Energy Program, Carleton University’s Sustainable and Renewable Energy Engineering Degree, the University of British Columbia’s Electrical Energy Systems Option, and the University of Calgary’s Energy and Environment Specialization. Our objective is to understand the drivers that can enrich discipline-oriented curricula with socially relevant, problem-oriented literacy. We devise a series of metrics to analyze these programs, including the program structure, the scope of the curriculum, access to application and research opportunities, and the institutional energy research community. Data is gathered primarily through reviewing program documentation and websites. Finally we evaluate each program’s effectiveness in cultivating the “T-shaped” engineer using a multi-criteria framework, designed to measure education outcomes. The program comparison shows that even with the immense constraints imposed on active curriculum development including accreditation requirements, budgets, and faculty availability, there is tremendous opportunity and design flexibility regarding how to integrate sustainable energy systems-thinking into energy engineering education; seizing this opportunity now, while developing a culture of continuous improvement and adaptation, is imperative to our evolution as educators and engineers.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada