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Powering up clean energy systems education

New ASU master’s program seeks to position graduates as leaders in global transition to sustainable energy

Solar panels in front of a sunset.

The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University is launching a new graduate degree program in clean energy systems focusing on the generation, storage, distribution and applications of solar and other clean sources. Photo courtesy Shutterstock

April 09, 2024

The U.S. has work to do in the development of technologies that are going to help the country to reach the goal of being 100% carbon-pollution free by 2035, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. In moving toward this goal, the nation needs more people who have the knowledge to advance progress in this area.

“Clean energy systems are keywords used by federal agencies when talking about reducing or completely removing the traditional oil-based or fossil-fuel-based economy, which will happen by 2040,” says Arunachala Mada Kannan, a professor of engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. “We need to do a lot of things before that comes to fruition, but the key aspect is the energy source. If you tackle that, everything will fall into place.”

Meeting this challenge is the reason why the new Master of Science in clean energy systems is launching this fall in The Polytechnic School, part of the Fulton Schools, with Kannan as the program chair.

In the U.S., most clean energy systems education comes in the form of concentrations of other degree programs. Kannan says that to his knowledge, this is the only graduate program dedicated to clean energy systems.

“A systems approach is required to create real solutions to these global energy opportunities,” says Kurt Paterson, director of The Polytechnic School. “From the first electron generated to the last inch of wiring, we need engineers who think across technologies, policy, economics and access.”

The interdisciplinary graduate program benefits students seeking to further their education in this high-demand field, particularly those who earn undergraduate degrees in chemical, mechanical, electrical and materials engineering disciplines. The program’s main focus is on the design, applications, operations and maintenance of solar photovoltaics, batteries, fuel cells and smart zero-emission vehicles enabled by cyber-resilient power electronics systems.

For students earning a bachelor’s degree at ASU, the program offers an accelerated master’s degree option that allows students to earn their master’s degree immediately following their undergraduate work in a shorter time period.

One of the advantages students will have in this program is that all the faculty members have their own state-of-the-art research labs.

“The faculty is at the forefront in solving current issues associated with the smarter materials or systems, and students are very excited to learn from them,” Kannan says.

This new degree follows the model of other programs in The Polytechnic School that provide engaged learning, systems perspectives, industry engagement and research that drives business and society.

“Our clean energy systems faculty, students and graduates will help Arizona develop a world-leading, sun-driven economy. The benefits are wide-ranging and substantial,” Paterson says.

One key focus of the program is the study of autonomous zero-emission vehicles. Phoenix is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle testing, and has been since 2015 when the Valley’s involvement in the development and testing of these vehicles began, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

“Phoenix is one of the few cities in the country that has almost all autonomous vehicle companies fully testing their vehicles,” Kannan says.

This provides many employment opportunities for graduate students to put their education to work.

Another advantage for students in the degree program is the chance to collaborate with other schools at ASU as well as industry partners. Local companies that may be interested in the same areas can give students experience working on battery or fuel cell systems to enable urban air mobility applications. This creates possibilities for internships that can lead to job opportunities. The Polytechnic School is actively seeking industry partners for these work-based integrated learning experiences.

Upon completion of this program, graduates will be prepared to work in many different settings, such as large corporations, government agencies and small businesses, as well as go on to pursue advanced degrees. With the emphasis on project-based, hands-on learning infused with the development of entrepreneurial mindsets, some graduates may even start companies of their own.

As governments and businesses around the world rapidly invest in clean energy, this degree program will prepare the next generation of engineers to influence this historic transformation, all while helping create a more stable environment, equitable access to energy and thriving economies.

Says Paterson, “Can you imagine a better way to make a career?”

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