Currently a research associate at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Ulster University, Dr. Le Xuan Khoa is continually driven by the desire to pursue knowledge and develop a network of leading professionals in fields that contribute to a carbon-neutral future in Vietnam. As such, the YSEALI Academy’s seminar on Energy Economics and Policy has proven to be the perfect gateway to fulfill his goals – highly opportune for his keenness to become an expert and leader in renewable energy, while unveiling unexpected insight into energy developments in Southeast Asia that inform his next career move.      

A rare opportunity

Dr. Le Xuan Khoa begins telling the journey (and motivation) of his life with a childhood account: “My parents broke up when I was one years old, my mother raised me on her own. At a very young age, I realized that I needed to focus on my studies, to work hard so I could get a better future. It’s a gift I dedicate to her.”  

The 1987-born academic attended the Da Nang University of Technology and majored in Mechatronics. After a stint at Taikisha Vietnam Engineering Inc., one of the largest providers from Japan of green technology systems and automotive painting lines in Vietnam, his heart was set on furthering his education by studying abroad. Dr. Le came back to his alma mater and worked as a teaching assistant, then went on graduating with First Class Honor at the National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences, Taiwan, and received a master’s degree in Manufacturing and Management. He now resides in the UK as a research associate at Ulster University, where he was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Research Scholarships to pursue a PhD degree in Energy and Buildings. 

Le Xuan Khoa at the Master Graduation ceremony at National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences, Taiwan in 2015.

Despite being an accomplished researcher with papers published in well-regarded journals – he was awarded Best PhD Research Paper of School of Architecture, Built Environment and Planning at Ulster University in 2020, Dr. Le still wants to further expand his field of expertise. “For my research, I only focus on a small section of renewable energy, namely the energy system in buildings,” he says. “I wanted to learn new things outside of my background in technology. That is why the YSEALI seminar was such an ideal opportunity.” 

Sparking ideas

At the Energy Economics and Policy seminar, Dr. Le was one of the 35 young professionals from 10 ASEAN countries and Timor Leste gathered to discuss and exchange ideas regarding critical energy issues in the region with prominent scholars and industry executives from around the world.  

For Dr. Le, the result was rather phenomenal. “I must say the seminar has helped me see the whole picture when it comes to the energy sector,” he tells us. “Not only did the guest speakers expound on technology issues, which is my research focus, but they offered detailed discussions on other aspects such as energy management, energy economics, public policies, and the environmental impact and issues of energy in Southeast Asia.” 

Le (center) at his PhD thesis defense with Dr Caterina Brandoni and Dr Trevor Hyde at Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Ulster University, UK.

Prior to the seminar, Dr. Le’s priority was to continue his research in Europe or America; now he looks forward to coming back to Vietnam and building a startup which delivers energy-saving systems into buildings. “Thanks to those valuable lessons,” he adds. “I have identified unique challenges but also once in a lifetime opportunity to make my contribution in Vietnam and hopefully, in Southeast Asia.”  

According to Dr. Le, there have been increasing proportions of renewable power in Vietnam in recent years, making it a leader across the region. Nonetheless, there are many emerging challenges associated with such rapid growth, such as grid resilience and energy efficiency. Dr. Le hopes he can apply his expertise and experience in renewable energy control systems such as PV/T solar panels, heat pumps/HVAC systems and storage to enhance energy efficiency, reduce energy demand and increase grid resilience – particularly in buildings. 

Le (left) with Dr Nguyen Quang Minh, Technical Expert of GE Grid Solutions, UK, at 2016 Purdue Conferences in Compressor Engineering, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and High-Performance Buildings at Purdue University, USA.

Impactful connections

Of all the takeaways from the seminar, the most memorable one for Dr. Le is about leadership. “My dream is to become a leader who can inspire the younger generation and impact positive change on this field we love,” he says. “The YSEALI seminar’s specific focus on equipping young professionals like us with practical skills such as communication, decision making, and team management was nothing short of comprehensive and helpful.” 

Dr. Le was also impressed with having the chance to meet and connect with high-profile experts and industry leaders in the seminar, whose thought-provoking conversations deeply inspired him. Likewise, the opportunity of exchanging not only knowledge and experience, but also culture with his brilliant fellows made the seminar all the more rewarding. “Before this, I seldom connect with people on social media. I simply read their work and research on journals, for example,” he says. “Now I don’t see why we can’t reach out and talk with one another. The informative conversations we’ve had definitely help my work.”  

Le was a speaker at the International Conference Symposium on Computer, Consumer and Control 2014 at National Chin-Yi University of Technology, Taiwan in 2014.

Asked to give a piece of advice for future fellows of the YSEALI Academy’s upcoming seminars, Dr. Le recites his favorite quote from Albert Einstein: “A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for.” In other words, “Just take the challenge, and you will see yourself grow,” he says. “Another thing is to simply enjoy it. Never forget to have fun.” Dr. Le then talks about the many laughs he had during the seminar’s tea breaks, where fellows from each country presented a performance to demonstrate their national culture and identity. For his team, the Vietnamese fellows decided to give a presentation about the country’s beautiful sights, the deliciousness of ‘Phở’, and the infamous coffee culture.  

“As a firm believer in the power of technology with transformative visions, I am striving to make our lives better through innovation, knowledge, and research,” he says. “For that, YSEALI has been a great platform for me to have crucial connections, as well as great ideas to explore that will nurture my dream.” Together with other fellows, Dr. Le will join the network of YSEALI alumni – young future leaders of the Southeast Asia region. For him, this is one step closer to his lifelong ambition. 

Le (center) with his mother and Professor Tony Roskilly, Chair of Energy Systems at Durham University, Director of the Durham Energy Institute and Associate Director of the EPSRC Centre for Energy Systems Integration, UK, at the 5th Sustainable Thermal Energy Management International Conference (SusTEM2019) at Hangzhou, China, in which Le was a speaker.

Anh Thu – Bao Quyen