Watson Fellowship Conference

Wow! I can’t believe I’m back in the US after a year of traveling. I landed in Boston on July 29, flying from Santiago de Chile with a layover in Atlanta. A lot of people have asked me what my first meal was after landing in the US, so to answer the question, it was a spinach, mushroom, and Swiss egg sandwich from Einstein Bros. Bagels. My first “real” meal was atukula, home-made by my loving mother.

Shortly after landing, on August 1, I headed to Bar Harbor for the Watson Fellowship conference. I had an amazing time. The conference involved a fancy welcome dinner and then two full days of breakout sessions, Fellow presentations, and deep conversations with other Fellows during breaks/late into the nights. I really appreciated the sense of community I found among the other Watson Fellows. Although our projects were all very different, we had many shared experiences, and it was great to discuss the ups and downs of my year with people who just “got it.”

During the conference, I gave a ten-minute presentation about my project. From the Watson Fellows’ Guide, “Obviously, one cannot convey the entirety of a whole year’s experience in such a short period of time. One can, however, share a meaningful piece of it… This is not a business powerpoint presentation, but an opportunity to share your experience with each other from your unique perspective.” In the spirit these guidelines, I decided to tell two stories that illustrated my experience. You’ve seen one of these before (in this post) and the other one is new. For those interested, the text of my presentation is below. Enjoy!

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Smart Exergy: Power-Saving Wireless Communication

On September 2, I visited SmartExergy, a 4-year old startup that provides wireless monitoring solutions for Smart Grids, Smart Homes, and Smart Production. The company is co-located with a number of other startups, in a building adjacent to the University of Freiburg’s Faculty of Engineering. Omar Gorgies, Smart Exergy’s CTO and a Ph.D. student in safe systems at the University of Freiburg, showed me around.

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Analyzing Policy Interactions: A Chat with Sabine Reinecke

On August 28, I headed to Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg to meet with Sabine Reinecke, then a Ph.D. candidate (and now a post-doc) in the Chair of Forest and Environmental Policy. Her work examines climate change and biodiversity governance, in particular the interactions between different governance settings. During our meeting, we talked about various strategies for understanding environmental governance interactions. For context, we drew upon two of her studies: (1) an analysis of the REDD+ Partnership, an independent transnational exchange platform beside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and (2) a case study analysis of climate science and policy in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK.

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Prof. Antonello Monti on the Real-Time Customer-Centric Grid

On September 4, I met with Professor Antonello Monti at RWTH Aachen University. Prof. Monti directs RWTH’s Institute for Automation of Complex Power Systems, working on topics such as monitoring and distributed intelligence for Smart Grids. He was also the technical manager for FINESCE, an EU-funded project running from 2013-15 that developed an open-IT infrastructure for Smart Grid-related applications. Prof. Monti and I sat down for an interview, and he also gave me a tour of his lab.

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Energy and Agent-Based Models

On September 10, I Skyped with a researcher at the Institute for Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior (FCN) at RWTH Aachen University. His work applies agent-based simulations, or models of interacting autonomous actors (“agents”) with encoded needs and/or preferences, to energy-related problems. He’s co-authored a number of papers in this area, including one on German biomass plant installation and one on the spread of solar PV systems in Italy. He is also working on projects involving techno-economic analyses of large energy systems and pricing/regulation in power markets. We talked primarily about the merits and limitations of agent-based modeling for Smart Grids and renewable energy.

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Dr. Klaus Kubeczko on Smart Grid Transitions and International Collaboration

On March 15, I Skyped with Dr. Klaus Kubeczko, a researcher at the Austrian Institute of Technology. As mentioned on his profile, Dr. Kubeczko studies research, technology, and innovation policy, with “a strong interest in socio-ecological-economic transitions and system innovations for sustainable development.” He is also the Operating Agent for the International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN)’s Smart Grid Transitions Annex, which is why we first met. Dr. Kubeczko told me about some of his projects and gave me his insights on European and global Smart Grids.

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A Chat with Jennifer McIntosh of the International Solar Energy Society

On September 2, I met with Jennifer McIntosh, Head of Secretariat at the International Solar Energy Society (ISES). ISES is a global membership organization of researchers that, as stated on its website, “works to achieve 100% renewable energy for all, used efficiently and wisely, by providing the global renewable energy community with a collective, scientifically credible voice and up-to-date information gathered and synthesized by its talented members.” I met Ms. McIntosh at the organization’s headquarters in Freiburg.

Ms. McIntosh told me that ISES is just starting to bring Smart Grids into its fold, since Smart Grids become important as renewables scale up. In order to advance the global transition to a 100% renewable energy world, Smart Grids are an important area of focus. In particular, smaller grids can play an important role in not only increasing energy access but creating efficient and reliable networks of decentralized renewable energy. While many emphasize the necessity of building large scale “renewable energy highways” of power lines running from north to south, local approaches that give power to the people are already feasible and working. Community-owned renewable energy brings in stakeholders beyond the big energy companies and minimizes the losses that come with transporting power long distances. For these approaches, Smart Homes, storage, power-to-gas techniques, and other large infrastructural changes become necessary. Ms. McIntosh pointed out that we’ve gone through such large infrastructural changes before — specifically, when transitioning from buggies to combustion engine-driven transport — so we can do it again.

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