Project Description

Clean Energy & Sustainability internship program

South Africa is in the middle of its clean energy transition. After the initial success of a renewable energy procurement program beginning in 2011, the industry has faced some political headwinds from the utility monopoly and fossil fuel industry that view renewable energy as a threat to their business. The national utility is also dealing with a supply shortage resulting in regular rolling power cuts highlighting the need for more energy plants to be built urgently. These challenges create opportunities to build a cleaner, more distributed and affordable energy system that helps South Africa meet its climate change goals. This internship will expose you to these interdisciplinary issues when working on energy and sustainability in a country like South Africa.


The VACorps Sustainability and Clean Energy Internship program in South Africa is a structured internship that is facilitated by our Sustainability & Clean Energy Specialist, Chris Ahlfeldt, who is from the USA and currently working as a clean energy consultant and part-time university lecturer in South Africa. Through a combination of active mentorship, discussion, and a customized research paper, the program delivers a practical experience for work and research in clean energy in an emerging market like South Africa. You will also develop practical skills while acquiring a deeper understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability and energy industries.

The Internship Experience:

Clean energy & sustainability internships are typically 6-12 weeks in duration, and placements will depend on your area of academic interest and the needs of the specific organization.

Research Paper:

The research paper topic will be focused on a sustainability or clean energy topic and informed by your interests as an intern. There is also the option to co-author this paper with a South African University student, depending on the topic and timing of the internship.

Examples of what you will learn during this program:

  • Become familiar with South Africa’s clean energy industry
  • Gain perspective on what it’s like to run your own consultancy in a developing economy
  • Acquire experience on how to collaborate remotely with a South African student on research
  • Learn more about sustainability and clean energy topics of interest to you
  • Qualitative and quantitative analysis
  • Learn about a new culture and the energy challenges South Africans face

Internship Schedule and Time Commitment:

Internships will be five days a week (Monday through Friday), from 09h00 – 17h00, or 08h00 – 16h00, with the exception of a half-day on Fridays to allow interns to participate in VACorps Weekly Meet-Ups. It will be important for you to treat your internship as if it were a job because your internship work may eventually be published in academic journals.


In addition to the general orientation program provided by VACorps, participants of our Clean Energy & Sustainability program will receive a special orientation that is facilitated by the program leader. The content will cover topics specifically related to the sustainability landscape in South Africa as well as guidance on how to get the most out of your internship.  

During your internship, you will be directly supervised by your site manager, and are encouraged to take initiative to identify ways you can contribute, especially in areas of career interest.

The program leader:

Chris Ahlfeldt has 15+ years of work experience in the sustainability industry working primarily in the North American and African markets. Since founding his own advisory and research company, Blue Horizon, he has worked on various consulting projects ranging from low-income energy services deployment to national renewable energy policy. He’s also been involved in a number of energy and climate sector studies across Sub-Saharan Africa such as tariff studies, renewable energy policy, investor market entry strategy, economic development impact, and legislative/regulatory reforms in various countries (e.g. South Africa, Zambia, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Liberia, and Botswana). He also lectures on Environmental Finance at a local University in South Africa and obtained an Energy Systems Engineering B.S. degree at Stanford University.

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Meet past participants:

Federico Ravazzolo, Italy (2022)

Federico (pictured on the right) is studying for his Master's in Physics for Energy and Sustainability at the University of Amsterdam. He joined to VACorps program in July 2022 and participated in a sustainable [...]

Riley Goldstone, New York, USA (2022)

Riley is studying for a BA in Global Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She joined to VACorps program in June 2022 and participated in a sustainability internship at an [...]

Madison Brennan, Boston, USA (2022)

Madison joined the VACorps program on January 2022, and participated in a sustainability internship at an Urban Farm.  She is studying her masters of Liberal Arts in Industrial/Organization Psychology at Harvard University, School of [...]

Olivia Prodin, Michigan, USA (2021)

 Olivia is studying engineering and sustainability at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She joined the VACorps Program in June 2021 and participated in a sustainability internship at a local NGO.  "Coming to Cape [...]

Chase Magnano, Florida, USA (2021)

Chase, pictured on the right, joined the VACorps program in March 2021 as part of his gap year and participated in a sustainability internship at an Urban Farm in Cape Town. Chase will begin [...]

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