July 25, 2018

UCalgary joins forces with Germany's Max Planck Society to advance energy research

Partnership emerges from Energy in Society research group within Calgary Institute for the Humanities
Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary, left, shakes hands with Jürgen Sabrina Peric

Pipelines, gas prices at the pump, oilsands production, climate change: These are a few of the many unknowns in Alberta’s energy future. But this is not the first time that we have experienced transitions in energy systems. And while our provincial experience may seem unique, there are other places in the world that have undergone sweeping transitions.

After the Second World War, for example, European countries including the U.K., Germany, France and Italy went from a coal-based to a petroleum-based energy system within a short timespan. This led to high unemployment rates and rapid deindustrialization in coal-producing areas but also innovative ways of envisaging a prosperous future for these regions. 

“Looking back to understand the sources, consequences and contexts of past energy transformations will help us to navigate the challenges we face in the 21stcentury,” says Dr. Petra Dolata, PhD, Canada Research Chair in the History of Energy. 

Recognizing that the study of energy transformations at different times and in different places will help us find tomorrow’s energy solutions, the University of Calgary has joined forces with the Max Planck Society, one of Germany’s most prestigious and successful research organizations, and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for research collaboration and exchange. 

UCalgary brings expertise on the transition to a low-carbon economy

“We have incredible expertise in the humanities and social sciences focused on the transition to a low-carbon economy,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “Our energy research strategy is built upon cross-disciplinary collaboration, and this partnership with the Max Planck Society presents an opportunity to participate in world-class international teamwork.” McCauley is pictured above with Jürgen Renn, director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

The MOU is centred on research collaboration on the topic of Energy Transitions and scholarly exchange between Canada and Germany. The partnership emerged from a series of workshops and explorations between UCalgary’s Energy In Society research group and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin). EIS, an interdisciplinary research group at the Calgary Institute for the Humanities (CIH), has spent the past two years developing a research agenda on the histories, politics and social life of energy and energy transitions. EISco-convenors Dolata (history), Dr. Sabrina Peric, PhD (anthropology and archaeology) and Dr. Roberta Rice, PhD (political science), have also participated in three workshops with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, organized a lecture series on energy research at CIH and organized a multi-faculty workshop on Global Energy Transitionhere at UCalgary. 

“This prestigious international collaboration is an indication of the significance and the high quality of the interdisciplinary work being done by the EIS working group,” says Dr. Jim Ellis, PhD, director of the CIH.

Workshop in Calgary and Fort McMurray kicks off relationship

The MOU signing at the end of June kicked off a four-day workshop in Calgary and Fort McMurray that brought together UCalgary scholars from the Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Science, the Schulich School of Engineering and the Faculty of Environmental Design, as well as five visiting scholars from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Dolata insists that “energy research should always include people’s past experiences, whether in Alberta or elsewhere in the world,” and therefore research partnerships, like this one with the Max Planck Society, are the best way to move forward on our shared global challenges.

The Max Planck Society includes 84 institutes, has an annual operating budget of 1.8 billion euros (2017) and has produced no fewer than 18 Nobel laureates since its establishment in 1948, putting it on par with the best and most prestigious research institutions worldwide.

Located in the heart of Canada's energy sector, the University of Calgary has built a reputation as a global leader in energy research and innovation. With a focus on our low-carbon future, diverse teams are also assessing the effects of energy-related processes while harnessing unconventional hydrocarbon resources through the Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow research strategy.

Below, the University of Calgary and the Max Planck Society entered into an energy research partnership. Pictured, from right: 

  • Giulia Rispoli, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG)
  • Petra Dolata, Department of History
  • Benjamin Steininger, MPIWG
  • Sabrina Perić, Anthropology and Archaeology
  • Thomas Turnbull, MPIWG
  • Christoph Rosol, MPIWG
  • Jürgen Renn, director, MPIWG
  • Ed McCauley, vice-president (research)
  • Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost (international)
  • Florentine Strzelczyk, deputy provost
  • Penny Pexman, associate vice-president (research) 

University of Calgary and the Max Planck Society