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!