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.
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.
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.
On September 1, I Skype-interviewed Chelsea Tschoerner. Ms. Tschoerner is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Freiburg, studying sustainable mobility in Munich. She told me quite a bit about Munich and its interesting constellation of actors. We then discussed how lessons from her work apply more generally to sustainability policy research.
On August 21, I met with Klaus Hoppe, a free-lance consultant from Freiburg who helps integrate energy solutions into municipal plans. He takes a system-wide approach to this topic, working with companies, researchers, and municipal governments on tasks such as proposal writing and running citizens’ workshops. Before starting Klaus Hoppe Consulting, Mr. Hoppe worked for 21 years in the administrations of Freiburg and Bad Dürkheim on energy and waste management. During our meeting, we discussed the role of Smart Grids and ICT in municipal climate protection actions.
During my travels, I’ve enjoyed meeting many different people with diverse viewpoints and opinions. I’ve learned a lot from casual conversations. Here are five conversations I had in Germany and my thoughts about them.
I often get asked what a “typical day” on my Watson journey looks like. The short answer is that it depends. I was in Freiburg and Berlin for six weeks each, and my schedule looked different in each location. So here’s the long answer!
[An installment of the new series: Priya catches up on blogging!]
“Time goes by fast!” The thought passed through my head repeatedly as my bus pulled out of Freiburg’s central station, and I looked out the window at the familiar sights rolling by for the last time. It was September 3, the end of my six weeks in Freiburg. You’d think six weeks is too short a time to get attached to a place, but let me tell you — it’s definitely not. I fell in love with the cozy city, surrounded by the beautiful Black Forest and full of wonderful people such as Sebastian, Theresa, Timo, Kadda, and (remotely) my sublessor Kathrin, who all made me feel welcome and at home.
So what exactly did I do in Freiburg between my last “life update” and the end of my time there? First of all, I met with a number of people working in the Smart Grid or renewable energy realms: technical researchers, social scientists, representatives from energy utilities, consultants, representatives from Smart Grid technology companies, and people who fit more than one of these categories. (Some of the resultant interview writeups are posted, and some are forthcoming.) As part of this process, I spent time reading papers and articles online to learn more about my interviewees’ work and Smart Grids/renewable energy in Germany.
Of course, I also made plenty of time to have fun! I toured the surrounding area, had some visitors, and admittedly watched a little too much Netflix (I’m working on it). There were moments big and small of many varieties — funny, lonely, happy, and sad — and I’ll (hopefully) get better at sharing more of these moments as I start to blog more consistently during the rest of my Watson year. For the end of my time in Freiburg, though, I’ll simply share some highlights.