Two Wesleyan graduates, Michael Jacobs ’85 and Arthur Haubenstock ’84, joined five other experts in the field of renewable energy in Washington, D.C., on April 26, on a Capitol Hill panel. The seven offered a presentation to Congressional staff on advances needed to integrate renewable resources—including wind and solar energy—into the electric grid. The panel was organized by the EESI (Environmental and Energy Study Institute) and WIRES (the Working Group for Investment in Reliable and Economic Electric Systems). Jacobs, a senior engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) focuses on wind power, and Haubenstock is chief counsel and director of regulatory affairs with BrightSource Energy, a large-scale solar energy company.
“One of the greatest challenges in developing an alternative power source is developing a transmission structure,” says Haubenstock. “Unlike fuels in other sources, renewable energy tends to be intermittent, yet we need to maintain a robust and reliable grid. A pretty broad group of people are trying to figure out how to make it work.”
Jacobs concurs. “We’re finding enormous interest across the policy and political spectrum in modifying the electric power grid.”
As for the briefing, he offered this update: “The planning and real practice of adding energy from both wind and solar is smoother and more useful than just one or the other. This is because the daily patterns and the variations of solar offset much of those from wind, and vice versa.”
At Wesleyan, Jacobs was a CSS major. As a senior, he studied urban planning with Professor Robert Wood and recalls that campus conversations piqued his interest in alternative energy sources. After graduate school in urban planning, his interest in renewable energy led him to a career in regulatory work—“changing the paradigm, and working through the political process that ultimately governs our choices about the sources of energy available to us,” he says.
When asked what advice he’d give the average energy consumer, he advocated education: “Learn a little bit about where your power supply is coming from. When people heard about the latest mining disaster, many were surprised to learn that the U.S. even uses coal for energy. Yet half the power supply of the country comes from coal. Many are just hearing about the wind farm that has just been approved off Cape Cod. Yet it’s been in the works for nearly a decade—held up for nine years in the approval process. Before we’re able to convert to renewable power, there’s a lot that will have to change and the educated consumer can make a difference.”
“There’s no question that climate change is the most important issue of our age,” says Haubenstock. “It’s going to take a wide variety of answers to address that challenge. One of the things I love about Wesleyan is that it empowers students to think of creative solutions and to implement them. Alternative energy solutions present opportunities for everyone to explore and contribute.”
To download the 37-page visual presentation, the white paper, Challenges in Integrating Renewable Technologies into an Electric Power System by the Power Systems Engineering Research Center, as well as an MP3 of the briefing go here: http://www.eesi.org/electric-transmission-202-integrating-variable-renewable-resources-26-apr-2010