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. 


Emily Valley,