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Emily Valley

Study Abroad Experience       

            Prior to visiting Scandinavia, the most I knew about their energy system is that they were leaders in renewable energy. After the two lectures by Dr. Reed, I started to see that striving towards clean energy was much more technically involved than collecting energy from natural resources. It requires an understanding of the current electrical grid and how to connect the past systems to these various sources that now fluctuate based on the supply available. I expected Denmark and Sweden to be advanced in their renewable energy developments but did not expect to learn so much by visiting their facilities.

            Each site we toured furthered my understanding of the clean energy grid. Beginning at the solar farm and off shore wind farm showed me just how large of an impact renewables could have. The Jaergerpris Solar Thermal Farm spans 9 km and supplies the district heating for the nearby town. It is one of 460 district heating plants in Denmark. The tour of Middlegrunden Wind Farm was a boat ride to the turbines and an opportunity to step inside the base of the turbine. The efforts made by building these wind turbines is what led to wind energy consisting of 42% of the electricity generation for Denmark. This number is expected to grow to 50% by 2020. Learning these achievements and getting an actual tour of these sites was far beyond my expectations. Each site was very beneficial but the most interesting site visit for me was getting a tour of the DONG Energy power plant. The site consisted of two units, one built in 1990 and was recently converted from coal power to biomass. The other unit was built in 2002 with the intention of biomass as the fuel and an additional straw-fired boiler to increase efficiency. This was my first power plant tour and getting to hear their efforts to convert all eight of DONG Energy’s power plants to biomass by 2023 was truly incredible.  

            The study abroad experience has changed my perception of energy in the United States. I always expected our industries to be competitive when it comes to renewable energy, and though many companies are making efforts to change this, it is obvious that there is room for improvement. I think one of the main obstacles is simply the size of the United States compared to Denmark or Sweden. Our distribution grid technologies must span a much larger region and therefore have many more challenges. It was noted that maintaining energy supply during fluctuating weather conditions and figuring out the proper way to distribute it to the grid were two very difficult issues even for a small country like Denmark and Sweden. I hope one day the United States will further their clean energy production and distribution across the grid.

            My goal for studying abroad was to learn about the clean energy technologies of Scandinavia but to also become comfortable going abroad, since it was my first time leaving the country, and to enjoy the experience with other Pitt students and locals. I feel this goal was accomplished in many ways. Even though I could have stayed much longer, I left knowing much more about Scandinavia’s culture and got to socialize with people who have lived there their entire life. I learned more than I thought I would by getting to tour five very different energy production sites and bonding with Pitt students and faculty along the way was a truly beneficial experience.

            Overall, this influence has taught me the benefits of clean energy, the incentives used to encourage companies to seek out green technology, and the differences between the United States and Scandinavia when it comes to energy. I hope to one day find myself working in the energy industry but if not, I have learned how to work towards a renewable environment, which is a perception that can be used in industries outside of energy. This study abroad experience has broadened my appreciation of not only energy technology but also the Scandinavian cultures. I could not have asked for a more amazing group of people to share it with or a more welcoming location to study. 

 

Reflections from the Pitt/Scandinavia Study Abroad Trip

Kavitha Chintam

B.S. Chemical Engineering, 2017

 

 

My goals for studying abroad included the typical list of heartfelt clichés to explore a new area of the world, get out of my comfort zone, eat loads of delicious food, and learn about different cultures. However, this program in particular gave me the opportunity to delve deeper into a passion of mine—clean energy. I wanted to return to the United States with two things: a refreshed idea of what exactly I want that oh-so-apprehensive future career of mine to entail, and a better understanding of the reasons for some of the stark differences between energy policies in the United States and Scandinavia. Upon reflection, I can say that I definitely achieved those goals.

 

Our visit to the Middelgrunden wind farm was a highlight, and I was sure that it would end up being my favorite site visit. After all, we got the chance to travel via boat on the sparkling ocean waters to venture inside of a wind turbine. I never even considered that being a reality for me. However, upon my return to the States, I found myself thinking of our visit to the Jaegerpris thermal solar farm the most. From an engineering perspective, being able to see the inner workings of the plant as well as the solar panels themselves was fascinating. It was surreal in the best way to see in person what I had only ever learned about in class. Even more interesting to me, however, was learning about the process by which this thermal solar farm was implemented.

 

The concept of district energy is a sustainable model that provides energy to more than one customer. Combined with a cooperative model, communities are involved and invested in the process, promoting a long-term life, despite an extended payback period. It is such an incredibly simple idea, yet one that is difficult to implement in high volumes in the United States. I knew that Denmark and Sweden are leaders in the clean energy realm, so seeing the output of policies and the attitudes of regular citizens made sense. I was expecting to see a positive perspective of clean energy, but I was still impressed by the magnitude of district energy and cooperative units; seeing it in reality rather than just reading statistics and articles was an eye-opening experience.

 

This trip has revitalized my desire to make a positive, tangible impact in the environmental world. My plan has been to dedicate my career partially to research and partially to public policy, and this experience has confirmed that this is the direction in which I want to proceed after I graduate. Learning about the research in clean energy technology at DTU has seriously made me consider pursuing part of my further education abroad. Bringing back that knowledge and perspective would be beneficial when working in public policy in the U.S. as well. I am the first to admit that I am too much of an idealist at times, and can expect my hopes of the world to fit everywhere. I always wondered—and, frankly, was constantly annoyed—about why the U.S. could not function like Scandinavia in terms of clean energy. After visiting Denmark and Sweden, I now fully realize why these ideas cannot simply be copy and pasted. The culture, the politics, and the societal perspectives are just not the same. I will apply this knowledge to my life, now and in my future career.

 

I still believe that the approach to clean energy needs to be improved in the United States, but I now have a more realistic idea of how that approach can be modified. I have returned to the U.S. with fresh eyes, a new perspective, and a burning desire to get started. I am excited for the chance to work in both an engineering and public policy capacity, and will definitely take the knowledge I gleaned from this experience along the way. Tak og hej hej!

 

 

Pennsylvania’s Energy Transition

 

Across the U.S., state agencies, legislators, and regulatory bodies are working to better understand the future of a more distributed energy infrastructure. In the past, managing the electric grid was a much more predictable industry – projecting demand, growth, and understanding how centralized generation plants could supply load within the system.  This model, however, is changing. Increasingly affordable distributed energy resources (DERs) such as residential solar panels have repositioned the role of the consumer, communities across the state are beginning to look at options for locally-generated electricity, and the resources required to meet customer demand are rapidly changing. These forces are putting pressures on our existing grid and the regulatory bodies in charge of safely managing this complex infrastructure.

 

Pennsylvania is a state, however, that is uniquely positioned to rise and meet all of the above challenges. There is an opportunity to adjust to evolving energy markets while also capturing the history and future of rich natural resources within the state. Although the traditional energy legacy of Pennsylvania provides employment today, recent analysis suggests that further supporting clean energy may produce an additional almost 10,000 jobs in the state in 2018 alone. There is no doubt that the challenges of climate change against the backdrop of an increasingly unpredictable federal landscape will require strong state leadership. Currently in Harrisburg, agencies are working across multiple disciplines and local governments to better understand our collective challenges.

 

Pennsylvania’s place in the energy transition can thus be a holistic approach to energy resource diversification – creating policy that dually prioritizes economic development as well as long-term sustainability goals, putting communities and consumers first. Our sustainability story is one that must focus on an energy transition that utilizes all locally available resources and paves the way for peer states.  By doing so, Pennsylvania can be a model state for an integrated energy transition.