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We need a new approach to education to shift the energy debate

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Scott Neilson

Partner

Tokyo

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The Net Zero transition is complex and requires an understanding of everything from regulation to geoeconomics. But our education systems ill-equip us for the decisions that lie ahead.

Every option on the road to Net Zero has its critics. Environmental groups oppose fossil fuels, putting banks and power project developers under pressure over funding the transition from coal to gas in developing countries. Nuclear has an image problem. Solar panel manufacturing has raised human rights concerns; wind turbines have been criticised for their impact on wildlife

This debate has to change. Currently, concern over the potential for criticism from NGOs, voters and the media is inhibiting policy development. 

The energy transition is a complex challenge that requires an understanding of advanced technologies, regulation, contractual risk allocation, international value chains (both for the materials needed to build new infrastructure and the fuel sources themselves) and geoeconomics. 

However, our current education system ill-equips us as a society to take an informed view on the decisions that need to be made.

Energy is vital to our future, yet not a focus in our schools

Few know the peak demand of their country’s power system; the advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources; or the realistic options for supplying these sources locally. 

Nor do they understand how to balance dependable and intermittent energy inputs; the impact of energy intensity on land use; how to lower emissions and improve security while keeping prices under control; or the most effective things we as individuals can do to help with the transition.

Education is critical to help reframe the conversation. Economics is well-represented in education, yet less effort has been made to improve our energy literacy.

Even among experts a detailed appreciation of energy systems across countries and regions is limited, either because those systems are so large they are hard to conceptualise, because the experts have a specialist skillset (eg engineering), or because their work touches only a fraction of the energy ecosystem (eg rooftop solar).   

Creativity is critical to solve complex problems

Education is critical to help reframe the conversation. Money underpins our society, so finance and economics are well-represented in education. Energy is equally important, yet the same focus has not been channelled towards improving our energy literacy.

We teach our populations in silos – maths, biology, chemistry, languages – and test knowledge using standardised examinations with predefined answers. Yet issues such as climate change are non-linear. We need education systems that give children a holistic understanding of broad issues and instil a creative approach to problem-solving.

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