Study Abroad: Clean-Energy Grid Engineering

  • 1)What were your expectations prior to visiting Scandinavia (in terms of what you knew, related to energy)?

Prior to visiting Scandinavia, I was under the impression that Denmark and Sweden would have nearly the same energy goals and developments as those here in the United States.  Having taken one power concentrated course prior to visiting Scandinavia, I thought I had a solid overall understanding of what energy related technologies, infrastructures, and policies I was going to see overseas.

  • 2)What was the reality of those expectations?

Upon returning the United States, I found that what I learned in my one power concentrated course was just a small portion of what I experienced overseas.  Also, the contrast in infrastructures and policies in the United States to those of Denmark and Sweden was much more dramatic than I had expected.

  • 3)Tell us what you thought was the most interesting site visit and why?

The venues and guest speakers of each of our visits were great.  Each lecture was very informative and the technologies and infrastructures they had to show us were amazing.  This was certainly the case with the Middelgrunden wind farm.  With 20 offshore wind turbines and a 40 MW capacity, the wind farm was the largest of its kind when it was built in 2000.  Though the Middelgrunden wind farm, Denmark Technical University, Avedore Power Plant, and Jaegerspris Solar Heating Plant site visits were all incredible, I think our visit to ABB shocked me the most.  ABB’s Flexible Alternating Current System (FACTS) department presented some of their unique products that can boost transmission capacity, improve long distance power transfer, relieve transmission bottlenecks, minimize black-out risks, improve dynamic grid stability, and much more.  After a briefing on FACTS technology, we were shown a virtual reality room.  Most times, virtual reality is associated with recreational use for things such as playing video games or simulating a roller coaster ride.  In this case, an employee had created a substation (utilizing FACTS) to pitch its size and specs to another company.  As if the virtual reality room wasn’t mind blowing enough, we were then shown the robotics sector of ABB where they had robots mass producing robots!  Kind of scary but awesome at the same time.

  • 4)What was your goal for studying abroad, was your goal achieved?

My ultimate goal for studying abroad was to gain enough knowledge about the power industry to determine if I would want to strive towards making a career out of working in this field. I am confident enough in all of the information I have gathered from this trip to say that I am strongly considering such a career.  I also had smaller personal goals of things such as experiencing other cultures, trying new foods, and partaking in every and any adventurous activity.  Of which, this study abroad trip fulfilled all of.

  • 5)How has your study abroad experience affected your perception of energy in the U.S?

My perception of energy in the U.S. has certainly changed after being overseas.  With 42% of Denmark’s electricity being produced by wind energy, the United States seems far behind at a mere 15% generation with all renewable energy sources.  Though the deficit seems large, we do have to consider that New York City has a larger population than Denmark.  By 2020, Denmark wants to be up to 50% wind penetration, 20% carbon-neutral biomass, and have some hydro power.  The differing fact that stood out to me about Sweden, when compared to the United States, was the Swedish support of nuclear energy.  The health and environmental costs of nuclear energy are now seen to as a major problem by the United States as nuclear plants continue to close. Sweden hopes grow in nuclear and actually become 1/3 wind, 1/3 hydro, and 1/3 nuclear energy dependent by 2040.  By looking at the energy goals of Denmark and Sweden, among other things, there was definitely an overall more unanimous consensus to improve renewable energy production from local communities and the government than in the United States right now.  Communities and individuals in Denmark and Sweden believe in renewable production and are collectively investing in it.          

  • 6)How has this experience influenced/modified your future career plans?

This experience has greatly influenced my perspective on what it means to integrate clean energy into the grid.  Due to much needed technology developments and infrastructure upgrades, the power grid in the United States will need to undergo many changes in the near future to keep up with other countries.  Therefore, from this enlightening study abroad experience, I can see the need for electrical engineers in the near future for the power industry.  This trip has given me more motivation to go on to complete a power concentration within electrical engineering.  I think I may also now look into the potential for me to study abroad at Denmark Technical University for a semester.  As a whole, I could not have asked for a better, more influential experience with this trip.     

Dan Passarello,