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MOOC: Powering Agriculture – Sustainable Energy for Food

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How can we produce more food with less energy, make energy use more efficient, and upscale clean energy technologies in food value chains? Almost 1,400 people participated in the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) “Powering Agriculture – Sustainable Energy for Food” to discuss and find answers to those questions. Over eight weeks in spring 2016 they were introduced to the Energy-Agriculture Nexus and learned about the sustainable use of energy throughout all stages of agricultural value chains.

The MOOC was offered by the global initiative ‘’ and the TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences. Further contributing organizations were the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Tetra Tech, the World Bank, as well as the Center for Development Research (ZEF) of the University of Bonn.

Find the MOOC platform with all course material here.

About the Course

The MOOC introduced participants to challenges of and solutions for sustainable energy use in agri­cultural value chains. The first half of the curriculum focused on clean energy technologies while the second part highlighted economic and political aspects of projects at the interface of energy and agriculture.

Background

Around one third of the energy used worldwide goes into the production and processing of food from field to table. Given the current energy system mix, the agrifood industry sector is however heavily dependent on fossil fuel inputs for production, transport, processing and distribution, and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. With a continuously growing world population the need for food and for energy to produce is increasing. At the same time millions of farmers and processors in developing countries and emerging economies lack access to clean energy technologies for irrigation, drying, cooling. How can these needs be met sustainably? We have to produce more food with less energy, make energy use more efficient, and introduce and upscale more clean energy technologies.

The MOOC attended these challenges and dealt with the questions: "How can we support the use of clean energy in developing countries and emerging economies within the agriculture and food sector? How can we contribute to reducing the large quantities of agricultural products going to waste every day, and thereby contributing to food security, both globally and locally?"

Curriculum

Introduction

Week 1

Introduction to the Energy-Agriculture Nexus

Renewable Energy Technologies and Energy Efficiency in Agricultural Value Chains

Week 2

Renewable Energy Resources and Technology Overview

Week 3

Bioenergy for Agricultural Value Chains

Week 4

Energy efficiency in Agriculture

Economics of the Energy-Agriculture Nexus

Week 5

Energy and Agriculture on the Macro Level

Week 6

Energy and Agriculture on the Micro Level

Week 7

Business Models for Energy and Agriculture Projects

Summary

Week 8

Summary


To receive the course certificate, issued by the PAEGC initiative and TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences, participants had to continuously contribute to the course by earning certain “badges” for weekly quizzes, community activities, assignments and a final quiz. The most work intensive but also most interactive part was the assignments: the participants had to work in teams to elaborate a case study of a solar-powered irrigation system for a location of their choice. The second assignment asked them to develop a business model for a clean energy solution for agricultural use. The expert tutors were impressed by the submissions’ quality and range of approaches. Additional peer review further catalyzed discussions on different clean energy solutions and their applicability in different contexts. This didactical method, in addition to videos, offline reading materials and quizzes, created an active online community.

Course Material

The course material will stay accesible to the public on the platform.

All the material and videos are still online available without registration:

Introduction to the Energy-Agriculture Nexus

The first week of the MOOC provided an introduction to the Energy-Agriculture Nexus, spotlighted climate change aspects and presented an overview of energy inputs in agricultural value chains. These topics were covered in the reading material and the videos. A highlight of this week was the expert interview with Katie Kennedy Freeman providing insights into the World Bank's approaches to support clean energy solutions for agricultural value chains.

Videos:

Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency in Agricultural Value Chains

Week 2: Renewable Energy Resources and Technology Overview
The second week dealt with "Renewable Energy Resources and Technologies". The reading introduced the technical part of the MOOC "Powering Agriculture - Sustainable Energy for Food". The chapter provided an overview on renewable energy (RE) resources and a selection of technologies to harness these resources. A particular focus was on solar power – one of the most versatile technologies; including a design guide for solar powered irrigation systems. Nonetheless, the other technologies were briefly explored.

Video lecture by Prof. Ramchandra Bhandari, TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences


Week 3: Bioenergy Overview

The bioenergy session provided a technical overview on Bioenergy Resources and Technologies, biogas fundamentals, and the many uses of biogas in agricultural value chains. This unit introduced the process by which methane is generated, the technologies that can be used to generate methane and factors to consider when choosing a technology, and the different ways biogas can be used as an energy source.

Video lecture by Miguel Franco, Powering Agriculture Task Support Order (PASTO) & Director at Tetra Tech - Bionenergy and Environment


Week 4: Energy Efficiency in the Energy-Agriculture Nexus

The fourth unit introduced the concepts of Energy Efficiency and sustainable energy use. Participants gained an understanding of why Energy Audits are an important tool for energy efficiency and how life cycle assessments can support decision making for more sustainable energy use in agricultural value chains. A highlight of this week is a case study about energy efficiency in Kenyan tea factories.

Video lecture by Prof. Ramchandra Bhandari, TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences

Economics of the Energy-Agriculture Nexus

Week 5: Policies and Regulations for the Energy-Agriculture Nexus

The unit introduced the macro-economic aspects of the Energy-Agriculture Nexus by providing knowledge on Policies and Regulations for the Energy-Agriculture Nexus. Several Policy Tools for Promoting Renewable Energies have been presented and compared. For instance, the concept of circular economy is introduced as a mode of economic organization to minimize
resource use and promote adoption of cleaner technologies in agricultural value chains. This chapter also touches upon regulation of energy use and transitions to cleaner, renewable energies, as well as upon socio-economic impacts of energy
production and use. The chapter closes with a unit on markets and financing needs and opportunities for projects at the interface of energy and agriculture.

Video lecture by Alisher Mirzabaev, Senior Researcher at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn


Week 6: Energy and Agriculture on the Micro Level

The module continued the economics sessions addressing the Energy-Agriculture Nexus on the micro level. Participants learned about the differences in energy inputs and the potential to incorporate renewables for agri-food businesses of different scales (e.g. subsistence level-farm vs. large corporate businesses). They also learned about investment planning and tools for techno-economic analysis of energy projects in agricultural value chains, and about Cost-benefit Analysis.

Video lecture by Stefania Bracco, expert in Energy-Smart Agri-Food Chains, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)


Week 7: Business Models for Projects in the Energy-Agriculture Nexus

The unit provided the participants with know-how on Business Models and common methods for business decision making – with a focus on hands-on aspects, including examples of financial analysis of grid connected and off-grid clean energy projects in the agricultural sector. In addition, a case study elaborated by the FAO analysed solar pumps for sustainable irrigation in Bangladesh.

Video lecture by Prof. Ramchandra Bhandari, TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences

Summary

This last unit in week 8 of the MOOC looked back at the 7 previous weeks: Participants have learned about the Energy-Agriculture Nexus in general, about different renewable energy resources and technologies, as well as energy efficiency, in the context of agricultural value chains, and also about macro- and microeconomic aspects of the Nexus.

Video lecture by Prof. Ramchandra Bhandari, TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences

MOOC evaluation

Quick facts:

  • 1354 participants mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa (40%), but also from Europe (26%), Asia (15%), Latin America & the Caribbean (9%), North America (8%), MENA (2%)
  • 2/3 male and 1/3 female participants
  • Majority aged 35-44 (47%), 20% aged 45-55, 15% between 25-34
  • Working in international organizations (23%), NGOs (23%), research (16%), private sector (13%), and governments (4%)
  • 18% earned the final certificate – activity rates above-average, compared to reference values of Harvard research (9%)


For more details of the evaluation, check out the MOOC fact sheet

MOOC fact sheet

About the Organisers

Powering Agriculture – An Energy Grand Challenge (PAEGC) seeks to identify and support new and sustainable approaches to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy solutions for increasing agriculture productivity and/or value in developing countries. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Duke Energy, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) have combined resources to fund Powering Agriculture. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) supports the initiative on behalf of BMZ.

TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences sees itself as University of Technology, Arts, and Sciences. With its disciplinary and cultural diversity and openness, TH Köln’s activities are aimed on cultural and technological breakthroughs of high societal relevance; TH Köln contributes substantially to resolving social challenges.

Further Information