News Archive:

NSF SUPERB student Francesca Giardine presents summer RAEL project work

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 5.54.46 PM

National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion SUPERB (Sum­mer Under­grad­u­ate Pro­gram In Engi­neer­ing ⁦at Berke­ley)⁩ scholar Francesca Gia­r­dine worked with Den­nis Best in RAEL on clean energy for under-​​served com­mu­ni­ties for the 2019 Sum­mer.  Here she is pre­sent­ing her research.


IMG_6929Have a great year back at Smith College!


July Was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded

For the orig­i­nal: click here: https://​www​.kqed​.org/​s​c​i​e​n​c​e​/​1​9​4​6​2​1​9​/​j​u​l​y​-​w​a​s​-​t​h​e​-​h​o​t​t​e​s​t​-​m​o​n​t​h​-​e​v​e​r​-​r​e​c​o​r​ded.

Screen Shot 2019-08-07 at 8.03.54 PM

In the lat­est sign the Earth is under­go­ing unprece­dented warm­ing, Euro­pean sci­en­tists said Mon­day that July was the hottest month ever recorded.

While July is usu­ally the warmest month of the year for the globe, accord­ing to our data it also was the warmest month recorded glob­ally, by a very small mar­gin,” Jean-​​Noël Thé­paut, head of the Euro­pean Union’s Coper­ni­cus Cli­mateChange Ser­vice, said in a statement.

Last week, cit­ing the lat­est data, United Nations Sec­re­tary Gen­eral António Guter­res told reporters that the world is fac­ing a “cli­mate emer­gency.”  He noted the July num­bers were even more sig­nif­i­cant because the pre­vi­ous record-​​beating month, July 2016, occurred dur­ing one of the strongest El Nino’s on record. The weather phe­nom­e­non, which causes more storm sys­tems to form, also tends to con­tribute to higher temperatures.

We have always lived through hot sum­mers,” Guter­res said. “But this is not the sum­mer of our youth. This is not your grandfather’s summer.”

In a news release, the sci­en­tists at Coper­ni­cus framed July’s heat against the goals out­lined in the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, which aims to keep the increase in global aver­age tem­per­a­tures less than 3.6 degrees Fahren­heit (2 degrees Cel­sius) above prein­dus­trial levels.

Even at that those increased tem­per­a­tures, the effects on Earth’s envi­ron­ment would be dra­matic, includ­ing ris­ing sea lev­els and more fre­quent droughts and famines.

The July tem­per­a­ture was close to 2.2 degrees Fahren­heit (1.2 degrees Cel­sius) above those in the prein­dus­trial era. Since then, the Earth has warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahren­heit, accord­ing to  the United Nations Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change.

Much of Europe baked in a bru­tal heat wave this sum­mer. In Green­land, where tem­per­a­tures are 10 to 15 degrees F above aver­age, 10 bil­lion tons of ice is melt­ing into the ocean daily.

This is exactly what the cli­mate mod­els pre­dict,” said Daniel Kam­men, a UC Berke­ley pro­fes­sor who chairs the school’s Energy and Resources Group.

The state’s res­i­dent s are already see­ing the impacts of global warm­ing in more fre­quent and intense wild­fires. Res­i­dents also have higher med­ical and energy costs as they use more air con­di­tion­ing, Kam­men says, and farm­ers are tak­ing a hit as they attempt to cope with new weather con­di­tions. The expense is mostly being shoul­dered by low-​​income peo­ple who can  least afford it, said Kammen.

We are see­ing the social dis­rup­tion right here in the Bay Area, not just some remote story about 122-​​degree days in India,” he said. “It is very close to home.”

Kam­men says the new data under­scores the impor­tance of mov­ing away from fos­sil fuels as an energy source, which would pre­vent the worst effects of cli­mate change.

It can still be done, and Cal­i­for­nia can con­tribute, he says.  Already,  offi­cials have com­mit­ted the state to renew­able energy and climate-​​friendly poli­cies such as the cap-​​and-​​trade sys­tem and a man­date for solar energy capa­bil­ity in the con­struc­tion of new homes, Kam­men says. But he thinks the state can do more, like build­ing homes around mass tran­sit and imple­ment­ing farm­ing tech­niques that use less fer­til­izer, pes­ti­cides and water.

And he wants to see “a real­is­tic plan for the most car-​​intensive state in the nation to switch us all to elec­tric and hydro­gen vehi­cles. That has to be next on California’s agenda.”

Carbon capture: boom or boondoggle?

For US News & World Report, click here.

by Alan Neuhauser

WHEN A CANADIAN STARTUP announced this spring that it would soon begin build­ing a new type of facil­ity that could remove car­bon diox­ide from the air, it sparked con­sid­er­able fanfare.

Screen Shot 2019-07-26 at 5.03.48 PM

Head­lines declared the project, which this spring won $68 mil­lion in financ­ing, a “poten­tial solu­tion to global warm­ing.” The design, the brain­child of an acclaimed Har­vard physics pro­fes­sor and Time mag­a­zine “Hero of the Envi­ron­ment,” won back­ing from Bill Gates.

The­o­ret­i­cally, such a facil­ity could work vir­tu­ally any­where, extract­ing harm­ful green­house gases from the air on a mas­sive scale. But the con­cept was embraced early on by oil com­pa­nies, which quickly saw the pos­si­bil­ity of lib­er­at­ing the drilling and extrac­tion process from com­plaints about the emis­sions it gen­er­ates. In fact, the plant under con­struc­tion is being built in the heart of Texas oil coun­try, in part­ner­ship with a sub­sidiary of one of the largest oil firms in the U.S., Occi­den­tal Petro­leum. Occi­den­tal was one of three oil con­glom­er­ates to make siz­able invest­ments in the company.

The idea behind the facil­ity, called car­bon cap­ture, isn’t new: It’s been in use for years at a hand­ful of coal-​​fired power plants, oil and gas pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties and fer­til­izer plants in the U.S. The old­est oper­at­ing site began vac­u­um­ing CO2 from a nat­ural gas plant in 1972. Trees, which suck up CO2, could also be described as engag­ing in nat­ural car­bon capture.

What makes the Texas project dif­fer­ent, though, is its promise to remove car­bon diox­ide through “direct air cap­ture:” Rather than draw­ing CO2 from a smoke­stack, it instead pulls the gas from the open air regard­less of loca­tion or even the gas’s con­cen­tra­tion. Car­bon Engi­neer­ing, the com­pany behind the project, says that with lit­tle more than off-​​the-​​shelf industrial-​​scale fans, fil­ters and com­mon chem­i­cals, it’s solved a chal­lenge long seen as beyond the reach of engi­neers or any rea­son­able budget.

The idea of pulling CO2 out of the air has been around for 40–50 years, but what’s the chal­lenge is doing it at scale in a cost-​​effective man­ner,” says Steve Old­ham, the CEO of Car­bon Engi­neer­ing. “Hope­fully we have the answer to that.”

In gen­eral, air cap­ture and stor­age on a mean­ing­ful scale is a far tougher prob­lem than CO2 cap­ture at power plants and indus­trial facil­i­ties,” says Edward Rubin, an envi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor at Carnegie Mel­lon University’s Wilton E. Scott Insti­tute for Energy Inno­va­tion. “Much harder to find the nee­dle in a haystack that’s 300 times big­ger – hence, much more costly.”

Another pro­fes­sor put it more bluntly. “A lot of num­bers being thrown out there today are just unbe­liev­able,” says Howard Her­zog, a senior research engi­neer at the MIT Engi­neer Ini­tia­tive. “From what I’ve read, I’ve seen so many red flags that I’m totally shocked.”

Car­bon Engi­neer­ing insists that its tech­nol­ogy works. The car­bon diox­ide its Texas plant col­lects will be injected and stored under­ground, mak­ing the entire loop carbon-​​negative, the com­pany says. By its cal­cu­la­tions, the Texas plant will remove 500 kilo­tons of CO2 per year from the atmos­phere – the equiv­a­lent of plant­ing and nour­ish­ing some 20 mil­lion trees.

Basi­cally you have a carbon-​​neutral fos­sil fuel,” Old­ham says. “We have extracted from the air, in advance, an amount of CO2 that is more than the CO2 pro­duced when you burn that crude.”

The design is “decep­tively straight­for­ward,” he says. The CO2 binds with a liq­uid chem­i­cal, the mix­ture then pushed through a fil­ter. Car­bon Engi­neer­ing has been test­ing the approach since 2015, when a pilot facil­ity at its head­quar­ters out­side Van­cou­ver began pulling up to a met­ric ton per day of CO2 from the air. The planned site in Texas will aim to cap­ture 500,000 met­ric tons a year, the com­pany says – and, with expan­sions, per­haps as much as 1 million.

I actu­ally used to work in satel­lites, so I can actu­ally say it’s not rocket sci­ence,” Old­ham says. “Our tech­nol­ogy has always been designed for scal­a­bil­ity. It’s a ques­tion of repeat­ing the same plant many times.”

The goal, he says, is to buy time: To stave off the worst con­se­quences of cli­mate change as elec­tric vehi­cles make inroads and solar pan­els, wind tur­bines and – more recently – bat­tery stor­age expand and replace the coal, gas and oil plants that remain entrenched in the world’s elec­tric grids.

We are not in a posi­tion as a soci­ety today to move off fos­sil fuels. So from an envi­ron­men­tal per­spec­tive, we think this is worth doing,” Old­ham says.

The idea has found out­side sup­port. In a study this week in the jour­nal Nature Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, for exam­ple, a team of Euro­pean sci­en­tists con­cluded that while tech­nolo­gies like those being devel­oped by Car­bon Engi­neer­ing should “be devel­oped and deployed along­side, rather than instead of, other mit­i­ga­tion options,” they’re still worth pursuing.

But con­cern remains that such tech­nol­ogy could actu­ally enable the con­tin­ued use of fos­sil fuels rather than serve as a bridge to phas­ing them out. Occi­den­tal also plans to har­ness the gas cap­tured by its new plant for what’s known as “enhanced oil recov­ery,” where CO2 is injected into deposits to make the company’s drilling oper­a­tions even more pro­duc­tive. The com­pany is the biggest employer of enhanced oil recov­ery in the U.S.

There is also the issue of scale: Humans last year gen­er­ated a record 36.2 giga­tons of car­bon diox­ide – each giga­ton 1,000 times the size of just one of the 500 kilo­tons that the Car­bon Engi­neer­ing plant aims to remove. Remov­ing the CO2 from just 2018 alone would require plant­ing close to a tril­lion trees. The Car­bon Engi­neer­ing plant, by com­par­i­son, would need to be repli­cated some 40,000 times – and even then, only if car­bon emis­sions lev­eled off, which is far from certain.

CO2 neg­a­tive – yeah, right. It’s a big sham … There’s no proof that there’s actu­ally any­thing cap­tured by anything.”

Am I say­ing we should build 40,000 of our plants? God, I hope not, because that will mean we’ve failed in a lot of other mea­sures,” Old­ham says. But, he con­tin­ues, “it’s less than there are water treat­ment plants, it’s less than there are power sta­tions – it’s not totally ridicu­lous think­ing about build­ing that many. I hope that we don’t have to, but if we do, our com­pany wants to have that tech­nol­ogy ready.”

Other experts insist that no mat­ter how many plants Car­bon Engi­neer­ing licenses or builds, the com­pany will never accom­plish what it claims – and, in fact, may sim­ply gen­er­ate more emis­sions. Car­bon removal, at least as pro­posed by Car­bon Engi­neer­ing, as well as by two com­peti­tors in Alabama and Switzer­land, remains firmly in the realm of alchemy, they argue, with one pro­fes­sor com­par­ing the company’s claims and result­ing fan­fare to Ther­a­nos, the startup that attracted bil­lions of dol­lars in invest­ment and press atten­tion by claim­ing to remake blood-​​testing, but whose founders were later indicted on fed­eral fraud charges.

Car­bon Engineering’s planned project, he con­tends, sim­ply will not accom­plish what the com­pany has claimed: It requires so much energy – gen­er­ated by burn­ing nat­ural gas – that any­where from a third to three quar­ters of the CO2 the plant cap­tures will effec­tively end up back into the atmos­phere, Jacob­son says. The claim that CO2 injected under­ground will remain there, mean­while, has yet to be proven at scale, he argues.

There’s no proof that there’s actu­ally any­thing cap­tured by any­thing,” Jacob­son says. “It’s a gim­mick that actu­ally does not work.”

Car­bon Engi­neer­ing main­tains that its plans call for cap­tur­ing any emis­sions from the nat­ural gas plant. But while other aca­d­e­mics have taken issue with Jacobson’s math, but they agree that his con­clu­sions are correct.

On this point we agree: The num­bers as far as how much Car­bon Engi­neer­ing and the Swiss com­pany can cap­ture – they are wrong,” says Dan Kam­men, a physi­cist and pro­fes­sor of energy at the Uni­ver­sity of California-​​Berkeley.

Their assump­tions about how much energy they’re going to need are way under­es­ti­mated. I don’t even think they under­stand they have a prob­lem. I don’t think they’ll ever get the com­mer­cial plant to work.”

Car­bon Engineering’s planned Texas site wouldn’t be the first ambi­tious, large-​​scale car­bon cap­ture facil­ity in the U.S. In 2010, South­ern Com­pany, one of the country’s largest elec­tric util­i­ties, broke ground for a new coal-​​fired power plant in Mis­sis­sippi, one that would inte­grate car­bon cap­ture to prove the via­bil­ity of so-​​called “clean coal.” Seven years later, the Kem­per project was $5 bil­lion over bud­get, the sub­ject of a Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion inves­ti­ga­tion and mul­ti­ple law­suits, and South­ern Com­pany pulled the plug. The plant now burns nat­ural gas.

They spent $7 bil­lion to prove them­selves – and this is not a startup com­pany, this is one of the two biggest util­i­ties in the U.S. They have their own engi­neer­ing force. But they so over­es­ti­mated this, they lost bil­lions of dol­lars,” Her­zog says. “It’s easy to fool your­self if you want to believe and you don’t want to take a hard engi­neer­ing look at it.”

The Kem­per project, he points out, was designed to be about 220 times larger than a pilot ver­sion of the planned carbon-​​capture facil­ity. The Car­bon Engi­neer­ing site, by con­trast, is a 2,500-fold leap.

These are giant jumps,” Her­zog says. “So, as an engi­neer – this is crazy, alright?”

Car­bon Engi­neer­ing hasn’t put a price tag on its Texas project; a spokes­woman says that “financ­ing for the project will likely be in the hun­dreds of mil­lions.” The com­pany mean­while says that it’s aware that such a large leap in scale from its pilot plant to the one planned for Texas presents sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. The study in Nature Com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­cluded that scale – not cost – prob­a­bly presents the biggest hur­dle to the technology’s success.

Every­body acknowl­edges that risk, includ­ing Car­bon Engi­neer­ing. We don’t hide from that risk at all,” Old­ham says. He vig­or­ously dis­puted the pro­fes­sors’ other cri­tiques. “We’ve refined and updated and opti­mized our process sig­nif­i­cantly. To my knowl­edge, none of these peo­ple have come and actu­ally talked to the com­pany. Come and invite them, they’re all invited to our facil­ity, they can come and see our sys­tems work­ing, we have pro­duced finan­cial mod­els … the due dili­gence that we’ve done – come and look at it all. There’s noth­ing to hide here.”


California And Automakers Strike Deal To Lower Emissions

The land­mark deal worked out between Cal­i­for­nia and four major automak­ers for more fuel effi­cient cars isn’t just good for the envi­ron­ment — it could also be good for car com­pa­nies’ bot­tom lines.

For the audio: click here.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 8.00.32 PM

Two sets of rules for vehi­cle emis­sions — one fed­eral and one for Cal­i­for­nia — would be bad for automak­ers, accord­ing to Dan Kam­men, chair of the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berke­ley.

Set­ting stan­dards for less-​​efficient cars and try­ing to keep a pro­duc­tion line open for those, while the global trends are going the other direc­tion, is really a very costly move for the auto man­u­fac­turer,” he told KCBS Radio.

He says that’s why Ford, Honda, Volk­swa­gen and BMW have reached an agree­ment with the state to pro­duce more fuel effi­cient cars, even as the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion pushes ahead with a roll­back of mileage standards.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 7.56.17 PM

Econ­o­mist James Sallee, also at UC Berke­ley, says auto mak­ers see the writ­ing on the wall.

Regard­less of how they view envi­ron­men­tal issues inter­nally them­selves or whether they’re will­ing to put any value on it, I think they see a cer­tain inevitabil­ity that the trans­porta­tion sec­tor is chang­ing and that they’d like that change to kind of pre­dictable, grad­ual and con­sis­tent in order to let them make their invest­ment choices wisely,” Sallee told KCBS Radio.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion, which will likely chal­lenge this deal, has argued that relax­ing emis­sions stan­dards would lower the sticker price of vehi­cles and encour­age con­sumers to buy newer, safer cars.

Igniting Protest: Will UC Make History By Pulling the Plug on Fossil Fuel Investments?

In the wake of the his­toric vote by Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia fac­ulty to divest from fos­sil fuels, Cal­i­for­nia Mag­a­zine is re-​​running a 2014 arti­cle where action lead­ing to the divest­ment vote took off.

Daniel Kammen’s Op Ed, “UC’s invest­ments in fos­sil fuels are hurt­ing the planet”, in the Daily Cal­i­forn­ian from Decem­ber 3, 2013 is here.

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 8.59.56 PM

That Arti­cle, from July 2014 is reprinted in the July 2019 Cal­i­for­nia Mag­a­zine is here, and is below.

When 29-​​year-​​old UC Berke­ley stu­dent Ophir Bruck spot­ted Sherry Lans­ing, the for­mer CEO of Para­mount Pic­tures, on her way to a Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Regents meet­ing, he was hold­ing on to a key that he hoped she wouldn’t refuse.

We’re here to call on the UC Regents to take bold action on cli­mate change,” Bruck told Lans­ing last May, as she walked past 58 chant­ing stu­dents chained to two home­made struc­tures designed to rep­re­sent oil drilling rigs. “Will you sym­bol­i­cally unlock us from a future of fos­sil fuel depen­dence and cli­mate chaos?”

I drive a Prius,” Lans­ing replied, with­out stopping.

But now the issue is com­ing to a head at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem, as activists push hard for it to become the nation’s first large pub­lic research insti­tu­tion to jet­ti­son fos­sil fuel invest­ments. Over the com­ing months, the UC Board of Regents—trustees of a $6.4 bil­lion endow­ment, one of higher education’s greatest—will be forced to grap­ple with the question.

As cli­mate change accel­er­ates faster than ever before—and with the world’s top oil, gas and coal com­pa­nies already con­trol­ling a tremen­dous amount of fos­sil fuels—college stu­dents all over the coun­try are urgently pres­sur­ing uni­ver­si­ties to divest their hold­ings of these cor­po­ra­tions. Thus far 10 U.S. col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have com­mit­ted to divest, and the move­ment is active on 450 cam­puses nation­wide. To date, over 60 more enti­ties (mostly munic­i­pal­i­ties, churches and foun­da­tions) have heeded the call to divest, attribut­ing their actions in part to a desire to leave a world that future gen­er­a­tions will be able to inhabit.

But it has par­tic­u­lar fris­son at UC Berke­ley, where on Mon­day stu­dent activists dressed in black kicked off Earth Week 2014 by lying down in Dwinelle Plaza to sim­u­late a “human oil spill”—and to demand the UC sys­tem divest itself of fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies. With his­tor­i­cally suc­cess­ful divest­ment cam­paigns tar­get­ing then-​​apartheid South Africa, tobacco com­pa­nies and Sudan, Cal stu­dents have been cat­a­lysts for turn­ing finan­cial cal­cu­la­tions into moral ones.

If we do not divest from fos­sil fuels, and con­tinue busi­ness as usual, future UC stu­dents will not have liv­able futures—and it’s part of the Regents’ fidu­ciary duty to ensure that they do,” says 21-​​year-​​old UC Berke­ley junior Vic­to­ria Fer­nan­dez, one of Fos­sil Free Cal’s cam­paign leaders.

Fer­nan­dez, an envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies major, has made her cause con­sis­tently vis­i­ble to the Regents over the past year. She repeat­edly turns up at their meet­ings to give pub­lic com­ments, was one of the 58 chained to the oil rig, and reg­u­larly tries to engage the throng of stu­dents rush­ing through Sproul Plaza to join divest­ment efforts.

She’s moti­vated by her father, the son of a braceros agri­cul­tural worker from Zacate­cas, Mex­ico who labored on a date farm in Indio, Calif. “My dad never wanted to waste any­thing and recy­cled everything—those val­ues were cemented in me grow­ing up,” she said. When her father immi­grated to the U.S. at the age of 5, the fam­ily lived in the one tiny shack sit­ting in the midst of a huge stand of palm trees.

Bruck, an envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies re-​​entry stu­dent who is poised to grad­u­ate next month, says that divest­ing presents trans­for­ma­tional promise for soci­ety. “It’s more than about just reduc­ing car­bon emissions—it’s a jus­tice issue,” he says. “It’s an oppor­tu­nity to rethink out­dated polit­i­cal, eco­nomic and social sys­tems out of which the cri­sis was born.”

Video of UC Regents’ meet­ing excerpted from the forth­com­ing doc­u­men­tary “The Future of Energy”

While UC has been lis­ten­ing to what Fer­nan­dez and Bruck are say­ing about the need to divest, it’s not fully con­vinced. UC Regent Bon­nie Reiss—who served as a cli­mate advi­sor to for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—and UC Chief Finan­cial Offi­cer Peter Tay­lor ques­tion the ben­e­fits of divest­ment from a port­fo­lio tasked with bring­ing in returns to sup­port fac­ulty research and stu­dent schol­ar­ships, as well as whether divest­ment would actu­ally weaken the indus­try at all.

UC’s mis­sion is not just to fight cli­mate change—our pri­mary mis­sion is access and afford­abil­ity to receive a great edu­ca­tion,” Reiss says. “So it should be a really rare inci­dent where you’re putting any restric­tions on your invest­ment cri­te­ria that are any­thing but max­i­miz­ing your return on investment.”

I don’t think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate for staff mem­bers to make value judg­ments on wheth­er we should in­vest in to­bacco com­pan­ies, if ge­net­ic en­gin­eer­ing is good or bad, if fos­sil fuels are good or bad. Where do you draw the line?” —UC Chief Fin­an­cial Of­ficer Peter Taylor

Both Reiss and Tay­lor point to the UC’s deci­sion to divest from tobacco stocks in 2001 as proof of such risk. Each year, the uni­ver­sity sys­tem ana­lyzes how the port­fo­lio would have per­formed had it not divested. Dur­ing the 2012–2013 fis­cal year, the port­fo­lio earned $44.9 mil­lion more with­out the tobacco stocks.

But when look­ing at its cumu­la­tive dif­fer­ence cal­cu­lated between the port­fo­lio and its hypo­thet­i­cal alter ego between 2001–2013, the port­fo­lio lost $471.6 mil­lion. “Are tobacco com­pa­nies any less vibrant since 2001?” Tay­lor asks. “I don’t think it’s appro­pri­ate for staff mem­bers make value judg­ments on whether we should invest in tobacco com­pa­nies, if genetic engi­neer­ing is good or bad, if fos­sil fuels are good or bad. Where do you draw the line? What’s the answer to that? I’d love to know.”

Back in 2011, a divest­ment cam­paign tar­get­ing a select group of coal com­pa­nies failed to take off on cam­pus. But a broader ini­tia­tive gained momen­tum last spring, a few months after cli­mate activist Bill McK­ibben spoke at Berke­ley as part of a national tour to rally sup­port­ers around the cam­paign orga­nized by his non­profit orga­ni­za­tion 350​.org. Its call: Insti­tu­tions should divest from the top 200 oil, gas and coal companies.

Bruck was in the crowd that evening—one of just 15 to 20 stu­dents among a few hun­dred peo­ple, he observed, when McK­ibben asked all the stu­dents in the room to stand up.

He called upon us, say­ing that you have the power to take action and to lever­age your posi­tion as stu­dents and push your insti­tu­tions to act on cli­mate,” Bruck says. “The whole presentation—it gets you mad, it gets you scared. Not fearmongering-​​scared, but real­is­ti­cally con­cerned about every­thing you care about.”’s argu­ment is based on research show­ing that if the top com­pa­nies burned all of their reserves, it would raise the earth’s tem­per­a­ture beyond 2 degrees Celsius—the amount that gov­ern­ments agreed not to exceed col­lec­tively in the inter­na­tional cli­mate agree­ment bro­kered at Copen­hagen in 2009. Any­thing beyond this thresh­old, U.N. cli­mate sci­en­tists pre­dict, will cre­ate a world of heat waves, unprece­dented sea-​​level rise and not enough food and water to sup­port an increased pop­u­la­tion of nine bil­lion peo­ple by 2050. Recently, the UN’s Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change released a report con­clud­ing that green­house gas emis­sions need to be cut from 40 to 70 per­cent by mid­cen­tury in order to pre­vent a cli­mate catastrophe.

And accord­ing to Car­bon Tracker, the London-​​based think tank that con­ducted the top 200 com­pa­nies research, these cor­po­ra­tions have five times more car­bon to burn than the amount that would keep the earth below the two-​​degree limit.

After McK­ibben addressed the stu­dents, Bruck recalls feel­ing a respon­si­bil­ity to take action, though he had never really com­mit­ted him­self to orga­niz­ing on an issue before. “Things in my life cul­mi­nated where I was ready to engage myself at this moment—and cli­mate change was not one of those issues until I came out of that talk,” he says.

Stu­dents at Cal and other UCs adopted’s call for action. They began ask­ing the Regents to divest $11.2 bil­lion  (a $6.4 bil­lion gen­eral endow­ment pool and an addi­tional $4.8 bil­lion sit­ting in cam­pus endow­ments) from these top 200 com­pa­nies within five years of mak­ing the com­mit­ment. Their kick­off rally was at the Regents’ Sacra­mento meet­ing last May, when they chained them­selves to the sym­bolic oil rig, chanted calls for divest­ment and gave a 15-​​minute speech to the regents via 15 stu­dents speak­ing one minute at a time, so as not to vio­late the one-​​minute pub­lic com­ment limit.

At the end of the day, we’re try­ing to stig­mat­ize the fos­sil fuel in­dustry and take away their so­cial li­cense to op­er­ate.” —stu­dent act­iv­ist Vic­tor­ia Fernandez

In Jan­u­ary, after Fer­nan­dez and Bruck dis­cussed the issue with a group of Regents over lunch, the Regents agreed to set up a task force com­prised of stu­dents, Regents and fac­ulty that would exam­ine the issue and bring its find­ings to the Regents’ Com­mit­tee on Invest­ments. The task force would then make a rec­om­men­da­tion to the com­mit­tee, which would in turn make their rec­om­men­da­tion to the full body of Regents. Finally, Regents would vote on whether to divest its endowment.

It’s the same process that the Regents went through before vot­ing to divest from Sudan in 2006,” says Bruck.

But unlike the Sudan divestment—one that involved just nine companies—oil, gas and coal com­pa­nies are a trick­ier and more per­va­sive propo­si­tion. Tay­lor esti­mates that of the uni­ver­sity system’s $6.4 bil­lion gen­eral endow­ment hold­ings, “just north” of $100 mil­lion are invested in fos­sil fuel stocks.

It’s not impos­si­ble, but it’s an uphill bat­tle for the Regents to approve this,” says Reiss. “We need to ana­lyze the true costs and benefits.”

She con­tends that UC ini­tia­tives such as its green build­ing require­ments, and UC Pres­i­dent Janet Napolitano’s goal to get the nine-​​campus sys­tem car­bon neu­tral by 2025, are more effec­tive ways to fight cli­mate change. Green con­struc­tion, she says, not only reduces car­bon emis­sions, but also cre­ates mar­kets for sus­tain­able build­ing mate­ri­als and clean technology.

Stu­dents such as Fer­nan­dez and Bruck admit that if UC decides to divest from fos­sil fuels, it would be a sym­bolic ges­ture and prob­a­bly not make an impact on the huge cor­po­ra­tions’ bot­tom lines. But they insist there is more to gain by chang­ing pub­lic opinion.

At the end of the day, we’re try­ing to stig­ma­tize the fos­sil fuel indus­try and take away their social license to oper­ate,” Fer­nan­dez says. “The harm­ful things fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies do to com­mu­ni­ties are not seen by the econ­omy and the world as a whole. They hurt them eco­nom­i­cally and health-​​wise. Look at Chevron in Rich­mond.”

Cre­at­ing that social stigma has worked before. Although UC Regents and Berke­ley chan­cel­lors ini­tially resisted thou­sands of anti-​​apartheid activists push­ing for divest­ment from South Africa, the uni­ver­sity sys­tem did so in 1986 after 18 months of demon­stra­tions and phys­i­cal con­fronta­tions between pro­tes­tors and cam­pus police, anti-​​apartheid activist and Berke­ley alumni Steve Masover has recalled. In 1990, Nel­son Man­dela cred­ited the Berke­ley move­ment with play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in the down­fall of apartheid.

Bruck is brac­ing for the long haul. After grad­u­a­tion, he says, he can see him­self con­tin­u­ing to do cli­mate change orga­niz­ing full-​​time.

CEO Andrew Behar of As You Sow, an Oakland-​​based share­holder activist group, sees another com­pelling finan­cial rea­son to divest. He’s among a grow­ing group of investors warn­ing of the risk of invest­ing in fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies because of the “car­bon bub­ble”—the idea that the value of fos­sil fuel stock is over­priced. The the­ory goes like this: If gov­ern­ments pass cli­mate reg­u­la­tions or car­bon taxes to pre­vent the earth’s tem­per­a­ture from ris­ing beyond 2 degrees Cel­sius, fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies will be forced to leave most of their reserves in the ground. To keep that tem­per­a­ture thresh­old, accord­ing to a 2013 study by Car­bon Tracker, only 20 to 40 per­cent of those reserves could be burned.

Behar esti­mates the value of the car­bon bub­ble, or the industry’s “stranded assets,” as they’ve also been dubbed, to be $20 tril­lion. He says that in the last year, the bub­ble has already started to burst as coal has been dumped in favor of nat­ural gas and renew­able energy sources.

Nine coal com­pa­nies went bank­rupt last year. If you bought coal two years ago, you lost 58 per­cent of their portfolio’s orig­i­nal value,” he says. “It’s mov­ing more rapidly even than any­one thought possible.”

More peo­ple are really well versed in tech­no­logy and eco­nom­ic poli­cies in the big en­ergy com­pan­ies than any­where else. It would be crazy not to forge part­ner­ships with them and build on their re­sources.” —Berke­ley en­ergy pro­fess­or Daniel Kammen

In March, in a response to pres­sure from activists, Exxon­Mo­bil released a report to share­hold­ers that con­cluded “we are con­fi­dent that none of our hydro­car­bon reserves are now or will become ‘stranded.’ We believe pro­duc­ing these assets is essen­tial to meet­ing grow­ing energy demand world­wide, and in pre­vent­ing consumers—especially those in the least devel­oped and most vul­ner­a­ble economies—from them­selves becom­ing stranded in the global pur­suit of higher liv­ing stan­dards and greater eco­nomic opportunity.”

Out of the 10 col­leges that have cho­sen to divest in fos­sil fuels, most are small and pri­vate. The largest was Pitzer Col­lege, which announced on April 12 (via trustee Robert Red­ford) its deci­sion to divest its $130 million.

There’s a rea­son why no large pub­lic insti­tu­tion has stepped into the ring thus far. “Many uni­ver­si­ties remain unwill­ing to risk their endow­ments and need, frankly, more cer­tainty,” says Tay­lor, cit­ing an op-​​ed by the Uni­ver­sity of Michigan’s Chief Invest­ment Offi­cer Erik Lund­berg argu­ing that divest­ment was impractical.

And with a $32.7 bil­lion endowment—the largest trea­sure chest among all U.S. col­leges and universities—Harvard Pres­i­dent Drew Faust emphat­i­cally dis­missed divest­ment, cit­ing con­cerns that the uni­ver­sity would inap­pro­pri­ately appear to be a “polit­i­cal” actor, as well as risk future returns. (Recently, the uni­ver­sity signed on to UN-​​backed prin­ci­ples for “respon­si­ble invest­ment.” That is a non-​​binding frame­work, which crit­ics see as an empty gesture).

But those who have stud­ied the impacts of fos­sil fuel divestment—as well as at least one col­lege that divested—refute the idea that it will inevitably lead to finan­cial losses.

Our analy­sis found that if you are doing mar­ket cap weighted index­ing, there is very lit­tle cost to divest­ment from a risk stand­point,” said Liz Michaels of Ape­rio Group, a Sausal­ito, Calif.-based invest­ment man­age­ment firm spe­cial­iz­ing in value-​​based invest­ing. The com­pany doesn’t main­tain a posi­tion on fos­sil fuel divestment.

Aperio—which sub­scribes to the phi­los­o­phy that investors can only match the mar­ket, not beat it—used Barra pro­pri­etary soft­ware to remove a portfolio’s hold­ings in the fos­sil fuel sec­tor, then asked it to rein­vest and reweight them to match mar­ket per­for­mance as much as possible.

We’ve done much bet­ter after divest­ment,” said Stephen Mulkey, the pres­i­dent of Unity Col­lege in Maine, which divested in Novem­ber of 2012. “We’ve achieved sig­nif­i­cant gains because we are pay­ing closer—almost daily—attention”—a con­stant watch of its port­fo­lio funds to ensure that fos­sil fuel hold­ings stay below 1 per­cent of the college’s endow­ment. The col­lege also invests all pro­ceeds from the fos­sil fuel hold­ings into an inter­nal fund that pro­vides financ­ing for energy effi­ciency, renew­able energy, or other sus­tain­abil­ity projects, with the money saved then invested back into the fund.

The UC Regents’ Com­mit­tee on Invest­ments Task Force has yet to be con­vened. At last month’s Regents meet­ing, Fer­nan­dez and Bruck duti­fully waited their turn to speak at the pub­lic com­ment ses­sion and remind the assem­bled group of the task force’s impor­tance. Still, the stu­dents say that a vote on divest­ment is pos­si­ble within the year; Tay­lor says a Regents dis­cus­sion by Novem­ber is realistic.

Many divest­ment back­ers sim­ply advo­cate switch­ing from fos­sil fuel hold­ings to clean­tech and green bond hold­ings. But Berke­ley energy pro­fes­sor and divest­ment advo­cate Daniel Kam­men, a mem­ber of the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, says it’s also impor­tant to draw on the exper­tise of the oil, gas and coal com­pa­nies, spurring them to help cre­ate an econ­omy that does not rely on fos­sil fuels.

In the tran­si­tion to renew­able energy, we need to move them from extrac­tive com­pa­nies to knowledge-​​based com­pa­nies,” he says. “There are more peo­ple that are really well versed in tech­nol­ogy and eco­nomic poli­cies in the big energy com­pa­nies than any­where else. So it would be crazy not to forge part­ner­ships with them and build on their resources.”

No need to dam free flowing rivers to meet worlds climate and energy targets

Orig­i­nally pub­lished in Mongabay:

  • In a com­ment arti­cle pub­lished in the Nature last month, sci­en­tists argue that an “energy future in which both peo­ple and rivers thrive” is pos­si­ble with bet­ter planning.
  • The hydropower devel­op­ment projects now under­way threaten the world’s last free-​​flowing rivers, pos­ing severe threats to local human com­mu­ni­ties and the species that call rivers home. A recent study found that just one-​​third of the world’s 242 largest rivers remain free-​​flowing.
  • The ben­e­fits of bet­ter plan­ning to meet increas­ing energy demands could be huge: A report released by WWF and The Nature Con­ser­vancy ahead of the World Hydropower Con­gress, held in Paris last month, finds that accel­er­at­ing the deploy­ment of non-​​hydropower renew­able energy could pre­vent the frag­men­ta­tion of nearly 165,000 kilo­me­ters (more than 102,500 miles) of river channels.

In a com­ment arti­cle pub­lished in the Nature last month, sci­en­tists argue that an “energy future in which both peo­ple and rivers thrive” is pos­si­ble with bet­ter planning.

For decades, hydropower dams have been a go-​​to solu­tion for elec­tri­fy­ing the devel­op­ing world. There are more than 60,000 large dams around the globe, and as the demand for clean energy in Africa, South Amer­ica, and South­east Asia con­tin­ues to grow, hun­dreds more are cur­rently in the plan­ning stages.

Hydro­elec­tric dams have their advan­tages, such as pro­vid­ing a steady sup­ply of base­load elec­tric­ity that can be adjusted quickly to meet fluc­tu­at­ing demand and zero haz­ardous wastes or byprod­ucts to dis­pose of. But accord­ing to the authors of the Nature arti­cle, by Rafael J. P. Schmitt at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, Noah Kit­tner, Matthias Kon­dolf, and Daniel M Kam­men of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, at Berke­ley “Hydropower needs to be viewed as part of a broader strat­egy for clean energy, in which the costs and ben­e­fits of dif­fer­ent sources should be assessed and weighed against each other.”

The hydropower devel­op­ment projects now under­way threaten the world’s last free-​​flowing rivers, pos­ing severe threats to local human com­mu­ni­ties and the species that call rivers home. The Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment, for instance, is propos­ing to build the 11,000-gigawatt-hour Sam­bor dam on the Mekong River, which “would pre­vent fish from migrat­ing, threat­en­ing fish­eries worth bil­lions of dol­lars. It would fur­ther cut the sup­ply of sed­i­ment to the Mekong Delta, where some of the region’s most fer­tile farm­land is at risk of sink­ing below sea level by the end of the cen­tury,” accord­ing to Schmitt and col­leagues. “And the dam would do lit­tle to bring elec­tric­ity or jobs to local vil­lagers: much of its hydropower would be exported to big cities in neigh­bour­ing nations, far from the rivers that will be affected.”

A recent study found that just one-​​third of the world’s 242 largest rivers remain free-​​flowing, mostly in remote regions of the Ama­zon Basin, the Arc­tic, and the Congo Basin.

As Schmitt and co-​​authors note in the Nature arti­cle, how­ever, hydropower is just one of many clean energy options avail­able today, and tech­nolo­gies like solar pan­els or wind tur­bines can pro­duce sim­i­lar amounts of elec­tric­ity as large hydro­elec­tric dams at roughly the same cost.

[S]preading a vari­ety of renew­able energy sources strate­gi­cally across river basins could pro­duce power reli­ably and cheaply while pro­tect­ing these cru­cial rivers and their local com­mu­ni­ties,” the researchers write. “Solar, wind, micro­hy­dro and energy-​​storage tech­nolo­gies have caught up with large hydropower in price and effec­tive­ness. Hun­dreds of small gen­er­a­tors woven into a ‘smart grid’ (which auto­mat­i­cally responds to changes in sup­ply and demand) can out­com­pete a big dam.”

Schmitt and team say that, in order to keep the world’s remain­ing free-​​flowing rivers unob­structed while increas­ing access to elec­tric­ity in devel­op­ing nations at the same time, strate­gies for deploy­ing renew­able energy tech­nolo­gies and expand­ing hydropower projects must be made at the basin-​​wide or regional level and strike the right bal­ance between impacts and ben­e­fits of all avail­able clean elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion meth­ods. “On the major trib­u­taries of the lower Mekong, for exam­ple, dams have been built ad hoc. Exist­ing ones exploit only 50% of the trib­u­taries’ poten­tial hydropower yet pre­vent 90% of their sand load from reach­ing the delta,” the researchers report. “There was a bet­ter alter­na­tive: plac­ing more small dams higher up the rivers could have released 70% of the power while trap­ping only 20% of the sand.”

Site selec­tion for solar and wind farms must be just as strate­gic as for new dams. “Impacts of these projects on the land­scape need to be con­sid­ered, too. Solar and wind farms might be built on patches of land that have low con­ser­va­tion value, such as along roads, or even float­ing on hydropower reser­voirs,” Schmitt and co-​​authors sug­gest. “Solar pan­els and small wind tur­bines can be put on or near build­ings to min­i­mize infra­struc­ture and reduce energy losses in transmission.”

The sci­en­tists rec­om­mend that orga­ni­za­tions and gov­ern­ments who man­age river basins apply a “holis­tic per­spec­tive” to energy plan­ning that takes into account all non-​​hydropower renew­able energy options, energy effi­ciency mea­sures, energy demand man­age­ment, and the risks posed by global cli­mate change — as decreas­ing river flows in a more drought-​​prone, warmer world could severely impact the out­put of hydro­elec­tric dams.

But in order to prop­erly eval­u­ate all of the trade-​​offs when design­ing a renew­able energy strat­egy, we need to know much more about river ecosys­tems and the human com­mu­ni­ties that depend on them: “Researchers need to fill data gaps across whole river basins, from fish migra­tion and sed­i­ment trans­port to com­mu­nity empow­er­ment and impacts on food sys­tems,” Schmitt and co-​​authors write. “The costs of lost ecosys­tem ser­vices over the life cycle of energy projects must be included in cost–benefit analy­ses. Such research is cheap com­pared with the costs of build­ing dams and mit­i­gat­ing envi­ron­men­tal impacts.”

The ben­e­fits of bet­ter plan­ning to meet increas­ing energy demands could be huge: A report released by WWF and The Nature Con­ser­vancy ahead of the World Hydropower Con­gress, held in Paris last month, finds that accel­er­at­ing the deploy­ment of non-​​hydropower renew­able energy could pre­vent the frag­men­ta­tion of nearly 165,000 kilo­me­ters (more than 102,500 miles) of river channels.

We can not only envi­sion a future where elec­tric­ity sys­tems are acces­si­ble, afford­able and pow­er­ing economies with a mix of renew­able energy, we can now build that future,” Jeff Opper­man, a fresh­wa­ter sci­en­tist with WWF and lead author of the report, said in a statement.

If we do not rapidly seize the oppor­tu­nity to accel­er­ate the renew­able rev­o­lu­tion, unnec­es­sary, high-​​impact hydropower dams could still be built on iconic rivers such as the Mekong, Irrawaddy, and Ama­zon — and dozens or hun­dreds of oth­ers around the world. It would be a great tragedy if the full social and envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of the renew­able rev­o­lu­tion arrived just a few years too late to safe­guard the world’s great rivers and all the diverse ben­e­fits they pro­vide to peo­ple and nature.”

Pamok, Laos. Life along the banks of the Mekong River. © Nico­las Axel­rod /​ Ruom for WWF.


• Grill et al. (2019). Map­ping the world’s free-​​flowing rivers. Nature. doi:10.1038/s41586-019‑1111-9

• Opper­man, J., J. Hart­mann, M. Lam­brides, J.P. Car­vallo, E. Chapin, S. Baruch-​​Mordo, B. Eyler, M. Goi­chot, J. Harou, J. Hepp, D. Kam­men, J. Kiesecker, A. New­sock, R. Schmitt, M. Thieme, A. Wang, and C. Weber. (2019). Con­nected and flow­ing: a renew­able future for rivers, cli­mate and peo­ple. WWF and The Nature Con­ser­vancy, Wash­ing­ton, DC.

• Schmitt, R. J., Kit­tner, N., Kon­dolf, G. M., & Kam­men, D. M. (2019). Deploy diverse renew­ables to save trop­i­cal rivers. Nature 569, 330–332. doi:10.1038/d41586-019–01498-8

Prof. Deborah Sunter profiled by the US Department of Energy

Deb­o­rah Sunter, Ph.D., spent two years as a post­doc­toral fel­low with the U.S. Depart­ment of Energy Office of Energy Effi­ciency and Renew­able Energy in the Post­doc­toral Research Award Pro­gram. Sunter’s research explored and expanded a mod­el­ing plat­form designed to help eval­u­ate and meet the United States’ grow­ing energy demands. Her research and con­tri­bu­tions have been rec­og­nized in the global sci­en­tific community.  

For the orig­i­nal, click here.

Screen Shot 2019-05-12 at 2.43.03 PM

Sus­tain­ing our Future through Energy Security

Sixty-​​six per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion will be liv­ing in urban areas by 2050, accord­ing to the United Nations 2014 World Urban­iza­tion Prospects report. In the United States, more than 80% of the pop­u­la­tion already lives in urban areas. The con­sen­sus affirms that increased urban­iza­tion is the future. As global urban­iza­tion and pop­u­la­tion growth expand, so does energy consumption.

Energy secu­rity requires an under­stand­ing of future energy demands and the envi­ron­ments from which the demands orig­i­nate. Global pop­u­la­tion growth and rapid urban­iza­tion are being tracked, but cli­mate change throws in the wild card of uncer­tainty. Urban energy sys­tems are vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change and extreme weather, includ­ing storms, flood­ing and sea-​​level rise. Urban areas must be resilient to han­dle these chang­ing con­di­tions if they are to remain sus­tain­able and con­tinue to grow.

Mechan­i­cal engi­neer Deb­o­rah Sunter, Ph.D., is one of many sci­en­tists who have researched the very com­plex issue of energy security.

Every day is an adven­ture with new chal­lenges, new col­lab­o­ra­tions and new ideas,” said Sunter.

Sunter received a post­doc­toral appoint­ment in the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory (RAEL) at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. Her appoint­ment to the Post­doc­toral Research Award Pro­gram was funded by the Solar Energy Tech­nolo­gies Office of the U.S. Depart­ment of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Effi­ciency & Renew­able Energy Research Par­tic­i­pa­tion Program.

The pres­ti­gious post­doc­toral research award sup­ports sci­en­tific research in energy effi­ciency and renew­able energy by attract­ing sci­en­tists and engi­neers to pur­sue break­through tech­nolo­gies in energy research.

Sunter spent her two-​​year appoint­ment at RAEL explor­ing the SWITCH (Solar and Wind Energy Inte­grated with Trans­mis­sion and Con­ven­tional Sources) mod­el­ing plat­form. SWITCH is used to exam­ine cost-​​effective invest­ment deci­sions for meet­ing elec­tric­ity demand, with an empha­sis on inte­grat­ing renew­able energy into the elec­tri­cal grid. Cre­ated as an invest­ment plan­ning tool, the model explores the cost and fea­si­bil­ity of future energy ini­tia­tives while simul­ta­ne­ously ensur­ing that cur­rent energy demands are met and pol­icy goals are reached at the low­est cost pos­si­ble. SWITCH meets this objec­tive by mak­ing a series of opti­mized deci­sions. For exam­ple, all power plants have an expected life­time. When a power plant reaches the end of its life expectancy, SWITCH exam­ines whether it is more cost-​​effective to upgrade the exist­ing power plant or to retire the power plant and build a new one. SWITCH can deter­mine which type of power plants should be built and where these plants should be located with the goal to pro­duce low-​​cost energy sys­tems that meet reli­a­bil­ity, per­for­mance and envi­ron­men­tal qual­ity standards.

SWITCH was orig­i­nally designed and pro­duced by Daniel Kam­men, Ph.D., and his team at the Energy and Resources Group of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. Kam­men served as Sunter’s men­tor through­out the pro­gram. Since pro­duc­ing the ini­tial papers in 2012, Kam­men and a series of grad­u­ate stu­dents and post­doc­toral fel­lows have expanded the toolkit sig­nif­i­cantly, and SWITCH con­tin­ues to undergo improve­ments at RAEL. RAEL is an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary lab­o­ra­tory founded by Kam­men in 1999; it seeks to advance renew­able and appro­pri­ate energy through tech­nol­ogy inno­va­tion and pol­icy implementation.

Sunter’s appoint­ment and access to SWITCH allowed her to research the role of tech­nol­ogy inno­va­tion and pol­icy in reduc­ing emis­sions, improv­ing effi­ciency and sup­ply­ing more renew­able energy to the U.S. elec­tri­cal grid. Dur­ing her time, Sunter expanded the SWITCH model, orig­i­nally designed for the West­ern Elec­tric­ity Coor­di­nat­ing Coun­cil, to encom­pass the entire con­ti­nen­tal United States. Sunter helped to con­vert SWITCH from an older pro­gram­ming lan­guage to Python to increase acces­si­bil­ity to the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity. She also part­nered with pri­vate com­pa­nies to add new emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies to the program’s reper­toire, such as Google Project Sun­roof and Cal­Wave Power Technologies.

Sunter’s accom­plish­ments dur­ing her post­doc­toral expe­ri­ence are numer­ous. Sunter pub­lished many works with her col­leagues dur­ing her appoint­ment, most notably a high-​​impact arti­cle with Kam­men in the jour­nal Sci­ence. The arti­cle on urban energy sys­tems has received much atten­tion in the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity. Sunter also cred­its her post­doc­toral expe­ri­ence for expand­ing her research horizons.

Beyond the core research project, I have been able to learn a new sub­ject area, data sci­ence, and engage with the greater sci­en­tific com­mu­nity in ways that I had not done before,” said Sunter.

Sunter used her newly learned skills to win a data sci­ence hackathon in solar energy as well as orga­nize a suc­cess­ful forum on data sci­ence for sus­tain­abil­ity. Sunter has been invited to speak on her research at more than a dozen sci­en­tific engage­ments, and she was selected to be on a team of inter­na­tional authors for a book on inclu­sive green growth met­rics. Through­out her appoint­ment, she shared her exper­tise with under­grad­u­ates at the lab.

I have been able to do more dur­ing this research expe­ri­ence than I pos­si­bly could have imag­ined. It opened doors I didn’t real­ize I had access to,” Sunter said. “This has been one of the most pro­fes­sion­ally reward­ing expe­ri­ences of my life. I am incred­i­bly grate­ful for this opportunity.”

Imme­di­ately fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of the pro­gram, Sunter became a research fel­low at the Berke­ley Insti­tute for Data Sci­ence. Most recently, she has accepted a posi­tion as a pro­fes­sor at Tufts Uni­ver­sity in the Depart­ment of Mechan­i­cal Engi­neer­ing for the fall of 2018.

The Post­doc­toral Research Award Pro­gram is funded by the Solar Energy Tech­nolo­gies Office of the U.S. Depart­ment of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Effi­ciency & Renew­able Energy Research Par­tic­i­pa­tion Pro­gram. The pro­gram is admin­is­tered through DOE’s Oak Ridge Insti­tute for Sci­ence and Edu­ca­tion (ORISE). ORISE is man­aged for DOE by ORAU.

Main Menu

Energy & Resources Group
310 Barrows Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3050
Phone: (510) 642-1640
Fax: (510) 642-1085


  • Open the Main Menu
  • People at RAEL

  • Open the Main Menu