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TU Delft trains next generation system integrators

Interview with Dr René van Swaaij, programme director for the Master’s course Sustainable Energy Technology at Delft University of Technology

Since 2006, Delft University of Technology has been running Master’s courses in Sustainable Energy Technology. The same course is offered at two other universities of technology as part of the 4TU.federation, a collaboration between four technical universities in the Netherlands. Each institution adds its own ‘slant’ to the course. At Delft University of Technology, that slant is electrical energy.

Dr René van Swaaij, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, and Computer Science at Delft and programme director for the Master’s course talks to us about its content, its aim, and the employment opportunities. He also explains the link between the course and industry.

The combination of profiles is what forms the basis for the system integrator

‘The energy field brings numerous disciplines together, from electrical engineering to chemistry. Our Master’s in Sustainable Energy Technology focuses on system integration by offering subjects on optimization of energy systems and six different profiles: Wind Energy, Solar Energy, Biomass Energy, Power, Storage, and Economics and Society. These profiles are in turn organized into six clusters of three profiles from which the students can choose. By combining three profiles into one cluster, each cluster can cover a part of an energy system, such as generation, transport, and storage of energy, including electrical energy. Students can thereby acquire knowledge about the topics in each profile, but will not become specialists in those topics – as with the European Wind Energy Master. This combination of profiles is what forms the basis for the system integrator.’

Giving specialists an opportunity to exchange and collaborate

Our graduates have a wide range of opportunities when they complete their course, as we train them to become system integrators. As such, the course is not in-depth specialist training. Our students develop a very wide basis but possess adequate knowledge in a range of areas. With this background, they have a good understanding of different specialisms and their fields and can exchange and collaborate. Our Master’s course is, therefore, interdisciplinary, allowing our people to maintain an overview.’

60 per cent of graduates go into industry

“Het leeuwendeel van onze afgestudeerden – ruim zestig procent – gaat naar het bedrijfsleven en komt vaak in R&D-functies of in de consultancy terecht. Daar houden ze zich bijvoorbeeld bezig met het opzetten van grote energieprojecten. Dertig procent van onze studenten specialiseert zich verder, bijvoorbeeld via een promotietraject aan een universiteit of gaat aan de slag bij een onderzoeksinstituut. Tien procent begint een eigen bedrijf. Een voorbeeld hiervan is Eternal Sun, gespecialiseerd in de bouw van zonnesimulatoren en het testen van PV-modules.”

We have set up an industry advisory board to receive valuable feedback from industry

‘The way that industry sees the Master’s in Sustainable Energy Technology is not yet clear, so we have set up an industry advisory board as a sounding board. Our hope is that this will provide us with valuable feedback from industry. We do of course have contact with industry in other ways, and there are students who are currently undertaking research for their courses at companies working in the industry. For them, it’s not just about finding a solution to a problem but also about the academic question – in other words, they need to find a solution to a problem for which no solution yet exists.’

Grants are only available if part-financing comes from industry

‘But, we do have other contacts with industry. Our research groups present project proposals to PhD students and post-doctoral students, and graduates of the Master’s in Sustainable Energy Technology often participate in these research studies. In many cases, these project proposals are only awarded grants by organizations such as Topconsortium voor Kennis en Innovatie and NWO Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek if a certain percentage is also financed by industry.’

Everyone who graduates is in employment within six months

‘There is a great deal of interest in our Master’s in Sustainable Energy Technology. After the selection process, we have an intake of 120 students. We could take on more as the field is becoming ever more popular and the demand for engineers is high, not only at academic level but at higher and secondary vocational levels as well. However, our ability to take on more is limited by our capacity. We want to be able to give students the support that they need. Around 60 per cent of our students are international students and everyone who graduates is in employment within six months.’