Tools for an Energy Transition

Irving Institute supports Dickey Center-Led Project Aimed at Decarbonizing UN Peacekeeping Missions

The global transition to renewable energy systems represents a massive and complex challenge, demanding significant shifts in technology, policy, finance, and behavior on a relatively short timeline. It also offers a historic opportunity to create jobs, improve health, and increase the quality of life for people around the world. This challenge and opportunity is particularly pronounced in nations whose societies and governments have been destabilized by diverse crises — "fragile states." 

Although the United Nations is a vocal proponent of decarbonizing the world's energy systems, its peacekeeping deployments in these fragile states create significant greenhouse gas emissions — the UN estimates that between 20-40% of the energy produced and consumed in five key conflict areas in Africa is from UN peacekeeping missions — primarily due to the use of diesel fuel. The reliance on diesel fuel is not only harmful in terms of larger emission reduction goals (the UN has pledged to use 80% renewable energy by 2030), it is expensive, often logistically challenging — or even dangerous to obtain in these regions, and harmful to human health. Thus, Dartmouth and others are partnering  to decarbonize peacekeeping missions and build up renewable energy capacity in these regions.

Convening and Collaborating 

In spring 2023, Dartmouth's John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding hosted a workshop, Powering Peace: Supporting Renewable Energy for Fragile States, focused on this challenge. Victoria Holt, Dickey Center Director, co-founder of Powering Peace, and author on several Powering Peace case studies, chaired the two-day convening. The event brought together some of the world's foremost experts in this space and "took a multi-disciplinary look at how to accelerate the transition of UN peacekeeping missions to renewable energy" with a focus on "moving from good intentions to practical plans to meet the UN's climate change goals, as well as the aims of host nations, UN missions, and the needs of the populations they serve."

The workshop highlighted an immediate need in terms of how to move forward.  As Dartmouth participants Vikrant Vaze, Stata Family Career Development Associate Professor of Engineering, and Steven Peterson, Senior Engineering Lecturer, noted, "There was a widespread agreement and enthusiasm [among the workshop participants] about the need to act quickly and a general alignment at a conceptual level between these key stakeholders. However, the group openly recognized that different participants had somewhat different preferences when it came to the specifics of the renewable energy investment decisions. Thus, one main takeaway was the need to develop a shared understanding and a decision-making framework to move the process forward."  

On the Ground and In the Classroom

Vaze and Peterson submitted a successful proposal to the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society (one of the workshop's co-sponsors) to help fund the development of this decision-making framework in conjunction with Dartmouth's Dickey Center, a project that is now in full swing. 

The project team includes Vaze, who has expertise in optimization and group decision making and who will oversee the modeling project and PhD student researchers; Peterson, who is a system dynamics practitioner, who will oversee undergraduate involvement in the project as well as system dynamics components' the Dickey Center's Victoria Holt  (Director), who will serve as lead advisor to the project; and Thayer School graduate students Lilly Yang and Siqi Ke, who are conducting core research to help build out the decision making model.

The first step for the team has been to engage stakeholders to identify key objectives, constraints, and levers, with a particular focus on taking a "bottom-up approach" by "engaging key collaborators, especially those in Africa… early and often," helping to ensure that outcomes meet community and societal goals and needs.

This input will then guide the project team in the development and testing of the framework and supporting tools with the Dickey Center and its Powering Peace partners. The goal is to enable stakeholders to evaluate and quantify key tradeoffs in the process of transitioning to renewable energy at U.N. Peacekeeping missions.

Dartmouth undergraduate students will also engage with the project as part of the ENGS 18 and 19.01 courses, offering them a chance to participate and learn from a real-world case study in the complexity of transforming energy systems. Data from the project will inform curriculum for the course and students will be encouraged to "select the Powering Peace problem space for their capstone projects," with high-quality projects potentially being presented at the 2024 International System Dynamics Conference in Norway. 

"The Irving Institute is thrilled to help support this important element of Powering Peace," said Irving Institute Interim Faculty Director Geoff Parker, "which will not only help ensure the long-term success of the larger effort to decarbonize UN peacekeeping missions but also enrich our students' learning and ability to understand and lead this kind of work in the future." 

You can read more about the Powering Peace workshop topics and participants here