Renewable energies – Just as much needed

Interview with Salma Bakr and Martin Haagen

Martin Haagen, with a BA in philosophy and economics, is one of the few students from the humanities enrolled in the “Renewable Energies” Masters programme at the Universities of Cairo and Kassel. His colleague Salma Bakr comes from Egypt and is an engineer. Before deciding to enroll in the bi-cultural Masters programme, Bakr worked in Belgium in a research institute for micro and nanotechnology. While their cultural and professional backgrounds are worlds apart, their goals and hopes in development co-operation put them on common ground.

What are your goals?

Bakr: I want to help drive development in my home-country of Egypt. That’s why I decided to change my career path and head back to school. I plan to use the knowledge I have in electronics to help establish a sustainable energy supply in Egypt and start finding solutions to other environmental issues. I’d like to be a part of joint projects between Germany and Egypt.

Haagen: After I completed my first degree, I worked in Egypt and learned about the administrative and financial aspects of renewable energies. There’s huge potential there for renewable energies with all the wind power and energy from the sun. Bioenergy is basically a no-go since water is scarce and it would be a crime to grow energy crops for Germany’s cars running on biofuel. I want to help in the transfer of technical and practical knowledge so that it’s effective and sustainable for the Arab region. I am interested in seeing the entire development of the region and creating long-term value. Jobs in Egypt are far more important than green energies are. I see myself functioning as a liaison or broker, working on behalf of German companies, for instance.

What are the challenges?

Haagen: Many of the Egyptians need cheap energy. You cannot expect people living in poverty to put a photovoltaic system on their roofs. But the energy subsidies are eating away at the government’s budget. If energy prices continue to rise, the country’s going to be in trouble.

Bakr: The Arab countries generally offer good academic programmes in technical fields such as engineering. There are fewer courses offered in economics, however. And what people know about other cultures and countries is gleaned from either books or television. That’s too little – because when you’re working on issues such as renewable energies, you need to take in the social, economic and culture aspects as well.

What are the benefits of the bi-cultural Masters programme?

Bakr: The Masters programme looks at culture, economics, social issues and technology. This kind of broad knowledge professionalises us. These kinds of skills are needed all around the world. Say a person wants to start a renewable energies project in another Arab land. That person needs to know a lot about that country in a lot of different areas: What is needed? What already exists? What needs to be brought in from outside? Europeans also adapt their technologies based on their own needs, using technical components and expertise from other countries. The world of technology is still young. There’s no such thing as a person who knows everything.

Haagen: The Masters programme has given me insights into various technologies. My knowledge does not go as deep as what an engineer might know, but it gives me access to the issues surrounding technology. It’s important to be able to navigate the language. It’s important to know which numbers are relevant. That’s an enormous benefit when you’re trying to understand the industry. With that kind of knowledge, it’s easier to determine what is important for a region and what not. You don’t have to be able to calculate the efficiency quotient down to the one-thousandth to figure that out.

Bakr: The diversity of the programme makes it a challenge for everyone. But as they say: No pain, no gain! You have to work hard when you’re young, if you want to live well when you’re old – that’s what we say in Egypt. And that is what I am doing.

Haagen: For German universities, which are traditionally more theoretical, it’s a huge undertaking to offer an academic programme that’s practice-oriented, interdisciplinary and intercultural. There’s still some work to be done there, but given the importance of issues at hand, it’s worth the challenge. If it were any easier, a Masters programme like this wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.