Victoria Pizarro, University of Calgary
July 25, 2022
Interdisciplinary program aims to train Canada’s future leaders in low-carbon energy
A program that aims to develop the next generation of low-carbon energy leaders recently held its first in-person event in three years as it looks at big-picture issues facing the industry.
The University of Calgary’s transdisciplinary REDEVELOP program welcomed students from five Canadian universities for a tour of Pieridae Energy’s Jumping Pound Gas Complex on May 12. The students come from the universities of Calgary, Alberta, Toronto, Waterloo and Western Ontario.
REDEVELOP itself crosses over diverse areas of study such as geoscience, geophysics, civil engineering, public policy and sustainable energy development. This was the program’s first in-person tour since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We know that we are facing a massive challenge for the energy transition right now, in order to meet Canada’s goals and the world’s needs to move towards a ‘net-zero’ world,” says Dr. David Eaton, MSc’89, PhD’92, a geoscience professor in UCalgary’s Faculty of Science, who heads the program.
“What the REDEVELOP program has recognized is that it’s very important to adopt an interdisciplinary approach for this. One of the challenges for students at universities and graduate programs is that they are trained within individual silos.”
REDEVELOP was launched in 2017 in collaboration with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
As the program’s principal investigator, Eaton puts the students into a team environment where they address a topical issue related to energy transition. These competitive projects also have a very strong focus on Indigenous communities and how to link a western science approach to Indigenous ways of knowing. Therefore, each team works in tandem with industry leaders, as well as with Indigenous mentors.
REDEVELOP program manager Jordan Phillips says that, even during her internship in her last year of her master’s, she felt the oil and gas industry needed some evolution.
“This program started out as way of looking at the conventual resources in oil and gas and has since evolved to include alternative energy and greener energy,” says Phillips, who has a Master of Science in interdisciplinary geophysics from the University of Alberta.
“I think that the way we are moving some of these energies will no longer be alternative, but mainstream.”
REDEVELOP works to train Canada’s future leaders in low-carbon energy and provide students with the opportunity to explore solutions to challenges facing the energy sector in its journey toward a sustainable transition to a low-carbon energy future.
“I think our society is depending on energy in all its forms, and I think it’s really important that students coming out of school are aware not only of those types of energy, but how they fit into the bigger picture,” says Phillips.
“Some of the bigger picture includes Indigenous communities and how they are impacted by the entire country’s pursuit of energy, and the whole world’s pursuit of energy. It’s also important to know how the policies are included in the technical aspect of energy, as well.”
Phillips adds one of the major strengths of this program is that it takes students with a policy background and exposes them to the technical side, and vice versa. It also takes students with technical backgrounds and introduces them to the policies that happen within the industry.
Sumaya Bernier, University of Calgary
With an interest on the intersection of international trade, human rights and climate change, UCalgary Master of Public Policy student Joelle French was inspired to join REDEVELOP to learn how to close the communication gap between science and policy. More specifically, says the St. Xavier University political science grad, “How to prevent policy from being a barrier to tackling climate change and protecting our environment.”
French was placed on a team with three engineers and one scientist and says with each team member’s background came diverse perspectives. “We speak and think in different ways,” she says. “We really had to focus on understanding and finding common ground considering such diverse perspectives. If people are interested in energy, there is a spot for all skill sets.”
The experience at Jumping Pound, west of Calgary, was one of French’s major takeaways from participating in REDEVELOP. Even though she was born and raised in Alberta, it was her first time ever seeing and interacting with an energy plant.
“I wasn’t aware of all the different options that were available in the energy sector, being able to participate and recognize how many different pieces, skills and expertise goes into different energy projects and how things run,” says French. “Where good or bad oil and gas is such a part of our provincial identity. Understanding, ‘How does it come out of the ground?’ ‘How is it processed?’ and, ‘How is it transported?’ And all those technical pieces that go into it. Also recognizing when you don’t know something, but knowing who to ask, is another reason I wanted learn more of when participating in this program.”
Although COVID-19 forced programs online in recent years, REDEVELOP students previously visited Jumping Pound in 2019, albeit only from a distance. They used the plant as a backdrop to describe to students from across Canada how the natural gas industry works. This year, the group made various stops around the Alberta Rockies to examine different aspects and systems of the gas industry, and Jumping Pound was the first stop.
This year’s tour gave the 14 students the chance to experience the ins and outs of a gas-production complex and learn about the energy sector and opportunities for potential careers.
“We planned to go back to the Jumping Pound facility this year, and I reached out to the company to see if they had any interest in collaborating with REDEVELOP to organize the trip,” says Eaton. “I think it was hugely successful. It gave the students the opportunity to see first-hand the operations of a facility like that and to witness how things operate and talk to the people that work there. I think this is so instrumental in developing an understanding of the underlying energy systems.”