Ready for the energy transition

Ursina Dorer graduated at the top of her class at the Graduate School of Climate Sciences and won a “2022 Oeschger Young Scientist’s Prize” for her achievement. Today she helps power a solar energy company.

Ursina Dorer actually imagined that her professional future would be in international cooperation. She graduated from the University of Zurich with a bachelor's degree in political science before doing an internship at Swisspeace, an organization that works towards peacebuilding. But after applying for the master's program in international relations at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, she began to have doubts: "I realized that I needed a local connection in my life, and I didn't want to work primarily in an international environment."

In her search for alternatives, Ursina Dorer came across the climate master's program at the University of Bern, which appealed to her because of its interdisciplinary focus. "Nature has always been very close to my heart. Climate change is highly topical and has both global and local aspects." She chose to major in climate and environmental economics, both linked to her bachelor's degree. During her master studies she learned new methods and ways of working — not least working with theoretical economic models. What did the winner of the Oeschger Young Scientist's Prize particularly appreciate about her master's degree? Ursina Dorer: "You get to know the mindsets of the different disciplines" — and the different ways of looking at climate change from a research perspective. This helps with the "overall view of interdisciplinary social problems".

Promoting technology development

For Ursina Dorer, writing her master's thesis was also a particularly interesting and educational time. "It was another chance to take a deep dive into a topic and to work very theoretically." Maybe for the last time, because in the long term, the 27-year-old sees herself more as a practitioner. The title of her thesis was: "Learning and spillover effects in renewable energy technologies and their role in the phase-out of fossil fuels." Or more specifically and in layman's terms, the climate economist developed a competition model for energy markets that incorporates the fact that compared to fossil fuels, renewables still have a high learning potential, which means that their price is likely to drop as the technology matures. The main result of the study: To help renewables achieve a breakthrough, it makes little sense to simply put higher taxes on fossil fuels. It would be much more efficient to provide financial support to foster renewable alternatives so that these can become competitive on their own as quickly as possible.

Solar plants on other people's roofs

Ursina Dorer also has a strong connection to renewable energy in her professional life. Parallel to her master's degree, she worked at the startup Solarify. Today she is responsible for its marketing and communication. Solarify’s business model is to rent rooftops and install photovoltaic systems on them.

These systems are financed by private individuals and companies, which purchase individual panels and later earn a small profit from the electricity produced. "For me, it was always more than a student job," explains Ursina Dorer. "I joined Solarify shortly after its initial phase and have been able to help shape its growth over the past few years."

The winner of the Oeschger Young Scientist's Prize also sees her near future at the company, which has built more than 50 solar plants throughout Switzerland since 2016. "We are making a very concrete contribution to the energy transition," she emphasizes, "our work has a relevant impact." Where her climate master's degree will take her in the long term remains to be seen. But with her track record, Ursina Dorer should have no trouble finding exciting professional challenges. There is just one downside to her successful career: "At work, I miss nature."


(February 2023)