Doctoral student shifting Arizona toward a more sustainable energy future


a headshot of Carlos Aguiar Hernandez

Carlos Aguiar Hernandez, ASU School of Sustainability fall 2022 Outstanding Graduate.

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Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

Carlos Aguiar Hernandez is no stranger to modern energy challenges. His master’s thesis tackled questions about energy policies; he has extensive experience with the energy sector in Mexico; and he has served as the Delegate of the Energy Committee of the Arizona - Mexico Commission, on both sides of the border, since 2011.

Even with this breadth of experience, he still felt that he could do more in the energy field. After achieving a Bachelor of Science in public administration from Kino University, earning a Master of Science in public administration from the Sonoran Institute of Public Administration and working with the energy sector in Mexico for seven years, Aguiar Hernandez was determined to make an even bigger impact.

He found Arizona State University on a visit facilitated by his employer at the time, the Energy Commission of the State of Sonora, and was impressed by the newly introduced PhD in sustainable energy.

“Energy is one of the main factors for sustainable development, and that was the main reason to come to ASU and follow my PhD studies,” he said. “Another component of my decision was ASU’s interdisciplinary approach. This program brings together different perspectives and disciplines. The fact that it is embedded in the School of Sustainability and the College of Global Futures makes more robust connections with multiple factors — social, economic and technical — for energy transitions to low-carbon sources."

Aguiar Hernandez recently completed his PhD in sustainable energy through the School of Sustainability in the College of Global Futures. His time at ASU gave him a renewed sense of determination and new insight into the energy field to complement his prior experience. 

“I used to think that the energy sector was mainly about technical and economic aspects, but the social aspect plays a key role in energy transitions,” he said. “The adoption of new technologies and switching to new sources of energy affects communities, industries, organizations and individuals. All of these are social constructs.”

After graduating, PhD in hand, Aguiar Hernandez joined the city of Phoenix's Office of Sustainability as the city energy manager, a role that will give him a chance to leverage his interdisciplinary experience for positive change in the Arizona energy landscape.

“As an energy transitions professional, I would like to support energy transition processes like those outlined in the city of Phoenix Climate Action Plan. The city has set a goal of using 100% clean energy for municipal operations by 2030, among other energy-related sustainability goals. It is great to be part of this effort.

Here Carlos talks more about the experiences that him Carlos to ASU. 

Question: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

Answer: Sonja Klinsky. She kindly suggested using the writing center and other resources to improve my writing skills. That simple act changed my perspective to actively use the resources ASU offers to help students to thrive. As an international student, using all these resources was the fastest way to advance my writing skills and my overall experience studying, working, and researching. Receiving feedback is always difficult, but having the right environment, people and systems make it more manageable. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school? 

A: Take care of yourself; this is about you. Although this process looks like you should be complying with multiple deadlines, projects and assignments, the reality is that you have an individual process you need to take care of. A better version of yourself is the final product, and this is not only from the academic perspective but should be considered from a more holistic perspective. Use the gym, the counseling services, groups, sports and any new offerings ASU will create so you can become a better “product.” 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: The grad lounge at Wrigley Hall. It was a safe space to build what we were building. I know that the new building (Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health) has a similar space, but I did not use it as much as the grad lounge at Wrigley Hall, primarily because of the pandemic.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would invest it in supporting the development and improvement of energy laws, regulations, plans and strategies, procurement, financial models, education and business models for energy transitions. Clean energy technologies are advancing and, in some cases, they are cheaper than fossil fuels. But the fact that most of the concepts I mentioned previously are not aligned is blocking energy transitions in different regions, even in developing countries. 

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