Leshner Leadership Fellow Enzo Sauma wants to prepare the Chilean electric power sector for climate change

Sauma in the control room of a thermal power plant near Baltimore, MD, during his time as a Fulbright scholar. | Credit: Enzo Sauma

As discussions about global climate change take place in both the scientific sector and the policy realm, Enzo Sauma is in a good position to bridge the two worlds. An engineering professor and former Fulbright Scholar, Sauma studies the economics of electric power generation systems and their environmental impacts. He has also worked closely for years with policymakers in Chile. In these interactions, he has learned to focus less on the technical details of his models. “People care about whether they can use a model or its results, and if it benefits them,” he says. Sauma has also seen how engaging with those who can actually apply a model, before it is completed, can improve its usefulness (this kind of two-way dialogue and mutual learning is a key element of public engagement). 

In his year as a Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellow, Sauma plans on more face-to-face meetings with officials in the Chilean Ministry of Energy and the National Energy Commission, and with investors in power utilities. His message: Chile needs to assess the potential impacts of climate change on its electrical power systems as part of sustainable, long-term energy planning. Better understanding how different energy sources will be affected by different climate scenarios could save consumers money and provide more efficient and reliable electricity.

As a Leshner Leadership Fellow, he is also fostering interest in public engagement at his university, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, in Santiago. He wants his colleagues to know how much their work could potentially influence policy decisions. Importantly, public engagement activities are now a part of faculty evaluation in his school of engineering, Sauma said, although it’s unclear how much weight will be given to them in tenure evaluations. Sauma is looking forward to May 12, the date he and his colleagues in the College of Engineering have set for a faculty-wide seminar on public engagement, which will include participation by AAAS staff members. 

He and his colleagues hope that “with this seminar, the idea of the importance of public engagement will be considered more seriously in the evaluation of faculty members.”

It’s been a busy Chilean summer: in December, Sauma held his annual energy economics workshop with academic, industry, and public sector participants. He also spoke at Chile’s Congreso Futuro in January, an annual event organized by Chilean leaders that brings together international and local researchers, including past Nobel Prize winners, to discuss their work and its potential impacts on the future of science in Chile and throughout the world. Sauma was part of a panel “discussing the next 50 years of the Chilean energy sector, what we think it will look like and the immediate steps we have to take to get to that point.” The Congreso Futuro panels were streamed live on multiple website, television and radio channels, so Sauma hopes they reached hundreds of people. Moreover, he gave interviews to different media sources, including CNN.

Sauma will soon be the first director of a new Energy Research Center at his university. How does he find the time for public engagement? By thinking of it as part of his job, he says, rather than an extra task: “I don’t think you can say, ‘Okay, this hour of the day I’m going to dedicate to public engagement.’ That doesn’t work; you’ll never find that hour. I think the best way is to incorporate it into what you normally do.”

The AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute was founded in 2015 and operates through philanthropic gifts in honor of CEO Emeritus Alan I. Leshner. Each year the Institute provides public engagement training and support to 15 mid-career scientists from an area of research at the nexus of science and society.