Wind, Solar, and Sloths: A Recap of 10 Months in Peru

By Hai-Vu Phan, 2016-2017, Fulbright Public Policy Fellow to Peru

Hai-Vu Phan, 2016-2017, Fulbright Public Policy Fellow to Peru, visiting a solar energy plant near Tacna, Peru. (Photo credit: Maximo Meza)

As a 2016-2017 Fulbright Public Policy Fellow to Peru, I have served as a technical assistant within Peru’s energy regulatory agency, the Supervisory Organization for Investment in Energy and Mines (Osinergmin), for ten months. I am also concurrently a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California, where my interest and dissertation research focuses on renewable energy policies.

During my tenure at Osinergmin, I have helped my office publish a special report on the energy consumption ladder and a book on renewable energy. Additionally, I assisted on a number of internal projects, including academic chapters and articles, reports, institutional memoranda, and a research paper. I also conducted a weekly English conversation seminar for my colleagues. Lunch breaks and downtimes gave me the opportunity to speak with my coworkers about Peru’s energy situation and my own research. Aside from my formal work, there were also many opportunities for me to connect and make lasting friendships with my coworkers.

Hai-Vu Phan, 2016-2017, Fulbright Public Policy Fellow, visiting the Peruvian Amazon to learn about rural energy issues and meeting Pablito, the house sloth. (Photo credit: Andrew Lange)

My work with Osingermin has been much more rewarding than I could have anticipated. Because it is an energy regulator, I have been given access to energy plants that I normally would not have. I visited several wind energy farms, solar power plants, and stand-alone solar home systems. These visits were official state events, which meant that the costs were covered and my experienced supervisors planned all the logistics. This support was key, particularly for my visit to the Amazon to monitor off-grid solar energy systems, where my affiliation gave me rare access to rural communities.

When I am not in the office, I spend my time reviewing renewable energy policies and interviewing experts in the field, such as NGO representatives, energy consultants, and government officials. I have made several field visits to Peru’s Amazonian and highland regions and conversed with local residents about their energy situation. These trips were always a treat as I got to learn about Peruvian traditional lifestyles and sometimes encounter exotic animals like Pablito the house sloth. Back in Lima, the friends that I had made helped me navigate and explore life in Peru, including teaching me about traditional cuisines, explaining local jargon and slang, and taking me on a 60 km bike ride to a little-known ruin.

Hai-Vu Phan, 2016-2017, Fulbright Public Policy Fellow to Peru, presenting her final research project and bidding farewell to her office. (Photo credit: Melissa Llerena)

I have met many people through my work, friends of friends, Peruvian roommates, and serendipity. My Peruvian colleagues ask me many questions about U.S. culture, especially our political system given that 2016 was an election year. Being Vietnamese-American, I have also shared my Vietnamese heritage with them and took my coworkers to one of the two Vietnamese restaurants in Lima. I took advantage of this and other occasions to break down stereotypes about what it means to be “American.”

Academically, my Fulbright experience in Peru has helped me gather information, data, and interviews to complete my dissertation. This international knowledge and experience will further give me a competitive advantage in academia. Professionally, the contacts that I have made through work, interviews, and chance meetings provided me with contacts for future collaboration as I aim to help Peruvians expand their renewable energy sector. I can also better anticipate the challenges that may face U.S. companies and advise them if they want to invest in renewable energy projects in a Latin American context like Peru. Culturally, I have feasted on delicious foods, attended a Peruvian wedding, improved my Spanish, and learned about various Peruvian customs. Personally, and most importantly, I have met incredible people who I know will remain my friends long after this fellowship.

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