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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Sustainable development in remote communities through energy solutions: The case of Chilean Patagonia

Transitioning to clean, affordable, reliable, and modern energy systems is essential for sustainable development and is particularly challenging in isolated communities not connected to the main power grids. Literature has broadly covered energy supply in this context primarily under techno-economic approaches focused on the deployment of micro-grids and off-grid solutions.  In recent years, greater emphasis has been given to social, institutional, and environmental factors.  However, comprehensive sustainability assessments of the energy transition integrating communities, multiple solutions, and different energy sectors are poorly documented.  This integration remains crucial to achieving zero-carbon energy systems. This project analyses the specialised literature on island energy systems worldwide to develop the SUDEVEN (Sustainable Development & Energy) framework, a tool for assessing the potential of remote communities to build sustainable energy systems.  SUDEVEN includes 43 social, economic, environmental, financial, technical, institutional, and regulatory aspects organised in 10 categories and is applied to 12 communities in Chilean Patagonia. The Patagonian population represents less than 2% of the national total. Patagonian settlements are scattered, separated by geography, lack adequate infrastructure, and, despite their success in conservation and tourism, face profound issues regarding their energy systems. These systems rely heavily on weak infrastructure and imported and subsidised fossil fuels.  Results indicate that positive drivers for Patagonia’s energy transition include vast renewable energy potential, Chilean international commitments, and a new institutional framework. In contrast, the most pressing needs involve poor energy efficiency, high carbon emissions per capita, unsustainable biomass, local pollution, and low supply reliability. Barriers to the energy transition, in turn, comprise a lack of specific regulations, distorting subsidies and ineffective business models, centralised decision-making, and the absence of cross-sectoral planning. The latter is critical due to the importance of heating compared to other energy uses, mainly owing to Patagonia’s extreme climate and poor building insulation. Energy solutions proposed for Patagonia range from high-share renewable micro-grids with energy storage to smart energy systems. Pilot projects, financial mechanisms and enabling flexible policies are also crucial.  SUDEVEN successfully illuminates the multidimensional parameters that underpin sustainable energy solutions in isolated communities. It has the potential to be widely deployed in Chile, supporting direct energy policy, and addressing energy-related issues in remote areas. In addition, it has proven to be a valuable tool to implement in other remote communities worldwide.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.