Alternative Fuels and Anti-Idling

My experience as an Energy Fellow at the University of Rhode Island Outreach Center working with Ocean State Clean Cities showed me the many layers of the energy field and how versatile and useful my skills can be in the professional world. The program introduced me to the whole other side of energy, the behind the scenes allocation of energy, emerging technologies, efficiency programs, and increased use. As an undergraduate student majoring in environmental and natural resource economics, the program was ideal to further my studies and work experience.

Ocean State Clean Cities (OSCC) is a program within the URI energy fellows program. The main goal of this coalition is to reduce the amount of carbon emissions released from the transportation sector. The ways in which we try to reduce these emissions is through the promotion of alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles, idle reduction technologies, and by practicing better driving techniques. The six alternative fuels we currently promote the use of are electric, propane, natural gas, ethanol, biodiesel, and hydrogen. All of these alternative fuels produce fewer carbon emissions when burned than traditional gasoline and diesel fuels. The reason we want to reduce emissions from the transportation sector is because the transportation sector is one of the leading users of energy.

OSCC

I had many different duties during my year as an energy fellow, many of which put me out of my comfort zone. The main duties of my position were to stay updated on current environmental issues, incentives and technologies related to fuel reduction, alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles, idle reduction technologies, and promoting fuel saving driving techniques. This information is then communicated to the public through social media outreach, holding alternative fuel stakeholder meetings that let the industry stakeholders network, and periodic email newsletters. We take advantage of the abundant information and resources that are available to the coalition through industry partners.

The accomplishments I have made through the internship have helped me grow in many ways. I helped to facilitate alternative fuel stakeholder meetings by planning, organizing, and running such events. In 2014, OSCC held five stakeholder meetings: two natural gas meetings, an electric car meeting, and a hydrogen meeting. The best things I took from these meetings was seeing the different aspects of alternative fuel industries, meeting powerful industry individuals, and the confidence of knowing that I helped make the meeting happen.

No Idling

I am currently working on launching a campaign for URI to commit to and promote the practice of anti-idling. Idling is when a vehicle’s engine is left running when not in motion. This is unnecessary at times for many vehicles and if idle time is reduced, cleaner air and a noticeable reduction of fuel spent will be the result. The main targets of this anti-idling campaign are the vehicles that are often left running at times when it isn’t necessary, vehicles unloading goods, ticketing cars, service vehicles, and even when picking up a friend.

We plan to install “no idling” signs around the URI campus at loading docks and in front of dorms, places where it is most likely for drivers to leave their car running when it isn’t necessary. The goal of this campaign, “the big picture”, is to improve air quality on campus, reduce amounts of fuel burned and reduce reliance on foreign fuel sources. My experiences working as an energy fellow and for Ocean State Clean Cities is priceless, I have learned so much and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Thanks for reading!

By: Justin Venturini

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics Major

December 10th, 2014

Advertisements

Energy Efficiency Matters

For my internship I worked with Conservation Services Group (CSG) located in Westborough, Massachusetts. CSG is an energy efficiency company that operates by working in collaboration with various utility companies and state agencies throughout the country and helps to design and implement energy efficiency programs for the utility companies to use. CSG gives suggestions and recommendations on how the utility companies can meet their energy saving goals. The utility companies fund the energy efficiency programs and CSG helps them with the implementation and design. The utility companies then use the programs and have home energy specialists or auditors go into residential households and corporate buildings and give them suggestions on how to make their home or building more energy efficient, also known as a home energy assessment or audit. CSG operates throughout the country and is a non-profit company. CSG works in collaboration with well-known utility companies such as NSTAR and National Grid. Also, CSG is actually the number one energy efficiency company in the United States and I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to intern for such a prestigious and well-known organization.

During my time as an intern at CSG I worked on various projects and case studies in the marketing department. CSG supplied me with my own desk, laptop, computer monitor, and various desk supplies that I used to complete different projects throughout my internship. I worked on several case studies related to customer engagements and the contact center. The purposes of these case studies were mainly trying to figure out ways to make the customer engagements smoother and as timely as possible, and determine anything that might be inconvenient to the customer. I went to the contact centers and actually witnessed the process of signing a customer up for an audit or home energy assessment and what it looks like from both ends (the employee and the customer).

CSG

Also, during my internship I was able to go on an actual home energy assessment with the energy specialist, who was an employee of Mass Save (a partner of CSG). This gave me a perspective on what actually happens in the home energy assessments that CSG helps the utility companies design and implement. Additionally, I got to go to see the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, speak in Boston about his organization called Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). MassCEC “is dedicated to accelerating the success of clean energy technologies, companies and projects in Massachusetts—while creating high-quality jobs and long-term economic growth for the people of Massachusetts” (http://www.masscec.com/). This was a very enjoyable experience for me and made me feel good to know that my Massachusetts governor cares so much about helping to promote clean energies.

An environmental issue that CSG is attempting to mitigate is the rapidly growing rate of climate change. By promoting energy efficient practices and technologies, CSG is helping to reduce the amount of energy that our country is consuming. Since large amounts of energy in the U.S. are created from fossil fuels, when we use less energy we consume less fossil fuel and emit fewer damaging greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions are the number one cause of climate change. By emitting less green house gases through the conservation of energy, we are in effect slowing down climate change. Not only is CSG helping to reduce climate change but they also are saving people money in the process because by using energy efficient technologies and practices in your home you also save money on your electricity bills, potentially saving thousands of dollars each year.

What I enjoyed the most about working for CSG was all of the wonderful and caring employees that made my internship experience so much more memorable and enjoyable. After working for CSG I really got the feeling that they cared about me as a person and wanted to help me succeed. Working with such friendly and caring people really made me feel comfortable working at CSG on a daily basis and made me actually want to work harder and do the best job possible in whatever is asked of me.

By: Trevor MacDonald ‘15

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Major

Business Minor

December 18th, 2014

Little State, Big Effort

This past summer, I took the opportunity to intern at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) in Planning and Development and Forestry. It was an extremely exciting time when I was hired for the internship—as an environmental economics student I was eager for an outlet to apply my newfound knowledge of energy policy and start forging my career. The experience in my position was far from the passionate debate over emissions policies, fuel tax, and water regulation I had imagined, yet I found what happens in small offices is just as important as what happens in the glamor of the spotlight.

My official title was “Clerical Aide” and I bore it proudly. At first, I engaged in menial and mundane tasks: researching local watersheds, updating my knowledge on conservation easements, and watching videos about the Forest Legacy Program.

That’s when it hit me. After delving into manuals, marauding through maps, and scouring reports, I found that the heart of my internship was actually extraordinarily important for much of the preserved land in the country. What exactly is the Forest Legacy Program (FLP), you ask? The FLP is a project of the U.S. Forest Service aimed at conserving land threatened by non-forest activities, such as development. Under the FLP, the state has the opportunity to purchase land from sellers with a “conservation easement,” which means the state purchases the development rights to the land. Under these easements, the state can now protect the land into perpetuity. The forestlands often contain rare species, key habitats, aid in water protection, and are truly invaluable treasures.

After I had been really submerged in the workings of the FLP, I was tasked with actually helping plan the next land purchases the state would complete. I updated the Legacy land application and Frequently-Asked-Questions page to contain more relevant information and was also introduced to Geographic Information System (GIS) software, which I used to create maps of projected land purchases.

Though I have learned to truly dislike cubicles, my time spent at RIDEM was extremely valuable. I was completely unaware of the effort the understaffed and overtasked office that is Planning and Development put in day after day, all in the name of protecting the environment. Without these offices across the country, the United States would be in serious trouble… well, more than it is already. It was inspiring to see the commitment, and now I am continuing to strive for greatness in my own career.

Headshot

By: Dalton Kell ‘16

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics Major

Mathematics Minor

December 17th, 2014

Finding Pollution Hot Spots in Local Watersheds

During the past summer, I had the awesome opportunity to work with Simona Trandafir, Emi Uchida, and Todd Guilfoos of URI’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (ENRE) for the North East Water Resources Network (NEWRnet ) EPSCoR research project funded by the National Science Foundation. Other universities involved in NEWRnet are Salve Regina University, University of Vermont, and University of Delaware. The research focused total maximum daily loads (TMDL) of freshwater watersheds. Researchers chose three types of watersheds – urban, agricultural, and forest – to figure out what kind of land use affected the water quality. ENRE’s part of the research was split into two parts: one to develop a computer simulation experiment of stakeholder’s decision-making related to water quality, and then to actually go out in the field to find hot spots of pollution and talk to stakeholders.

Interns

Before I could even start my internship at the university, I was on a train with fellow interns from URI and Salve Regina to Delaware for a convention where we met thirteen other interns, each with his or her own project. Some were going to take water samples by hand while others were going to set up sensors in the steams and a few were going to create the computer simulation experiments. My project for the summer was to go out in the field and find hot spots of water pollution within the watersheds. While in Delaware I was able to make friends while learning about TMDLs and the NEWRnet mission. We were given tours of water treatment facilities in Wilmington, Delaware and brought to Delaware’s urban and forest watersheds. Our days were 8am-5pm, but once we were done we were able to explore the restaurants around the university and get to know the people we would be working with for the summer. On our last full day we even went to a rope and zip-lining course!

Drinking water

Once I got back to Rhode Island, the rest of the URI and Salve Regina team and I were given a tour of Bailey’s Brook and Maidford River Watersheds on Aquidneck Island in Middletown, Rhode Island. Bailey’s Brook is the urban watershed and Maidford River is the agricultural watershed. Since Aquidneck Island does not have much forest, the pristine forest watershed for Rhode Island is the Scituate Reservoir Watershed. Once I had an idea of where the watersheds were located, I began researching through secondary sources policies in place to protect the water, what types of pollutants the town of Middletown was most concerned with, and potential hot spots of water pollution. I met with Simona once a week to discuss my findings and figure out where I needed to go from there. Once I had a better understanding of TMDLs, I contacted the Town Planner of Middletown, various people from Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Aquidneck Land Trust to try to find out what their future plans were, if any.

Before my internship I was not fully aware that there is still pollution in our drinking water. On top of this new knowledge, I also gained valuable skills such as interviewing and researching and developing further questions to continue a research project that extends beyond classroom deadlines. Walking into this internship I had no idea what to expect, but I encourage all ENRE majors to have one under their belts before graduation. Internships are great opportunities to learn something new, gain valuable skills, and meet new people along the way.

By: Kellie Brown

December 11th, 2014

Exploring Wisconsin Farms and Water Quality

I spent this past summer conducting National Science Foundation (NSF) research at the University of Wisconsin-Stout alongside a team of 10 students from across the country. Each student came from a different academic discipline (both natural and social sciences), making it one of the first interdisciplinary Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) ever funded by NSF. I worked most closely with another economics student and a research mentor to evaluate the economic impacts of phosphorus pollution and mitigation within a watershed in Wisconsin. This project is part of a larger, long-term, interdisciplinary research project looking at the issue of toxic blue-green algae blooms in a Wisconsin lake, a watershed-wide issue involving many stakeholders, including farmers, citizens, and policymakers. I am passionate about the environmental impacts of agricultural systems, so this internship opportunity was a perfect fit for my interests, as well as my academic and professional goals.

I designed and disseminated surveys to Wisconsin farmers to attempt to better understand trends in Best Management Practice (BMP) adoption by capturing the economic landscape of Wisconsin farms. BMPs are ecologically sensitive alternatives to conventional farming practices. Soil loss and declining soil health are of heightening concern to Wisconsin farmers, policymakers, and citizens as these issues can be detrimental to profits and yields and can damage water quality through sedimentation and nutrient loading. In this watershed, excessive phosphorus loading from soil loss causes blue-green algae blooms that are toxic, unsightly, and a sign of an unhealthy ecosystem. BMPs can mitigate soil loss, but their effectiveness is still debated.

As I met with stakeholders, excavated through the massive piles of returned surveys, and journeyed through the world of statistical software, I found answers to important questions:

1) Which incentives do farmers find to be effective in easing their transitions to BMPs?

I found that farmers find technical help and education programs to be helpful incentives, along with the farmer-led councils that often provide these two incentives. The value placed on education and technical help is true for all farm types and sizes. On average, these incentives are more helpful than easement programs, tax breaks, and subsidies.

2) How interested are farmers in participating in education programs?

I determined that 23% of respondents have high interest in education, having mostly attended a variety of education programs. Likewise, 28% of respondents have medium interest in education, expressing interest in relevant education programs of all types as well as having participated in some education programs. Finally, 49% expressed low interest, being only interested in some or no education programs.

3) To what extent are farmers currently using BMPs?

This survey asked farmers about their use of conservation easements, crop rotation/cover crops, conservation tillage, waterway buffer zones, manure management, and fencing off livestock from waterways. I found that 45% of respondents are high adopters of BMPs, whereas only 33% are medium-level adopters and 22% are low adopters. This revealed that a large portion of farmers use a combination of various BMP options available.

4) Which variables and factors influence adoption of BMPs?

I found that various factors have significant impact on a farmer’s level of BMP adoption. For each additional incentive a farmer uses, their BMP adoption increases by 3.2% and for each unit increase in the frequency of soil testing, BMP adoption increases by 7.2%.

Those farmers in younger age groups increase their BMP adoption by 6.1%. This means that younger farmers are more readily adopting BMPs. Also, farmers that have children have a BMP adoption rate that is 9.5% higher than that of farmers without children. This could be due to an investment and interest in future generations.

On average, the prospect of increased profits and yield in the long-run encourages farmers of all farm types to adopt BMPs, whereas current policies and capital costs are generally perceived to have a more negative than positive impact, often hindering adoption.

Presentation

Overall, I learned an immense amount about farmer BMP adoption and water quality, but most importantly, I learned about the importance of connecting with others. The connections made between citizens, policymakers, and farmers via our research are making a profound difference in this community. Also, I have had many networking opportunities in the field of environmental economics and have been guided towards greater opportunities for further academic research and graduate studies, as well as career opportunities.

By: Lauren L’Esperance ’14

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics Major

Sustainability and International Development Minors

December 8th, 2014

Oyster Farming

For my internship, I worked with the Matunuck Oyster Farm. I was responsible for helping with day to day operations that are essential to having a successful farm and consistent product. My main daily task was to sort the oysters into appropriate size categories, and to remove predators from the harvest (crabs, starfish, etc.). Once the oysters were sorted into different sizes they were put into totes, receptacles used to move the oysters more efficiently. Then, after this process was done, I was part of a team who put the oysters back into hard plastic mesh “bags”; I shook each bag vigorously to help the oysters knock together and promote a deeper cup. Matunuck is known for having small but deep oysters that have a unique taste and I was partly responsible for keeping up this consistency. The bags had to be put back out onto the specific lines of the oyster farm. The placement and density of the bags (oysters per bag) were very important pieces of the process. There was great attention to detail because the bags all had to be put down into the water the same way and have almost exactly the same amount of oysters in each. Oysters will actually fight for nutrients in the bags, and if there are too many oysters some will die and negatively affect consistency. Because of this, I had to make sure every bag was spread out evenly to discourage fighting for nutrients and to decrease the mortality rate.

About a month into the internship we started to use a machine to sort the smaller oysters that were too numerous to sort by hand. The machine was a tumbler that had increasingly smaller holes in it as it got towards the end. The tumbler was set at an angle so the oysters would be put in at the top, then be spun around to fall through the holes that corresponded with their size category. The machine had four size categories (1 through 4) and the oysters fell directly into the corresponding tote for their size. Another employee named Frank and I ran the tumbler and realized that it was incredibly inefficient. At the beginning of the time we started using the tumbler, there was actually a third employee who helped check for consistency because the machine had some fatal flaws. The oysters that were sizes 3 and 4 would end up in the same tote, and many oysters fell out of the machine before we even ran them through it. Frank and I took a few hours during one day we were running the machine to try to improve the efficiency. We only used free scrap materials, but when we were finished there were almost no category 3 oysters in the category 4 tote, there were almost no oysters falling out of the machine, and we did not need a third employee to help. By eliminating a third of the labor, we greatly improved efficiency and freed up help for other tasks on the farm.

Although my internship is more marine affairs or aquaculture based, the efficiency problem (with the tumbler machine) that I tackled is relevant to my major. Also, having had no prior experience with aquaculture, more specifically an oyster farm, I had never thought of it as a career path for myself. After finishing the experience, there is nothing more that I would like my profession to be than owning and operating an oyster farm. Being outside and doing important hands on work is a dream for me, and this may be my way to make that happen.

By: Zachary Staub

December 18th, 2014

Educating Rhode Islanders about Sustainable Energy

Since January 2014 I have been an Energy Fellow at the University of Rhode Island Outreach Center. This year I worked on the Sustainable Energy Outreach and Education Team, developing ways to teach the community outside of URI about energy topics such as efficiency, conservation, and renewables. We worked to serve as a teacher to the public and provide resources about energy to those who are not able to attend the university. We did this through a series of workshops available to Rhode Island residents where they could learn the “who, what, why, and how” of sustainable energy. These included a Home Energy School, a Renewable Energy School, and two residential efficiency workshops in South Kingstown and Warwick as part of the EPA Climate Showcase Communities grant.

We designed these educational programs by working backwards and first identifying outreach objectives. First, we wanted to provide people with research-based, factual knowledge about energy basics and what is happening on the federal, state, and individual levels. Most importantly, we hoped to facilitate a behavior change in Rhode Islanders to adopt sustainable energy habits, advocate for progressive energy policy, and be confident, informed energy decision makers. If successful, in the long run we will see a reduction in CO2 emissions and a diverse array of energy sources.

This fellowship has allowed me to grow professionally as well as personally. I have gained vast knowledge about the energy system and Rhode Island’s leadership in a sustainable energy future. I have also gained invaluable professional skills and a newfound confidence that has translated into my everyday life. Working in outreach and education has also inspired me to add a minor field of study to my major in Environmental Economics. In the spring I will begin my Public Relations minor in order to achieve the most effective means of communicating energy to the public.

I feel very strongly that the energy industry is where I would like to further my career. I enjoyed this internship so much that I reapplied to be a 2015 fellow, and was accepted as the Team Leader of Energy Education. This promotion will provide me with leadership skills, and more importantly allow my voice to be better heard in educating Rhode Islanders about sustainable energy behaviors.

By: Angela Tuoni

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics

Public Relations Minor

December 22nd, 2014

Off the Hook

Writing for Atlantic Coast Fishery News was truly an eye opening experience. It was creatively challenging and drew on the breadth of my academic skills. I contributed a few different pieces to the newspaper every month. My primary responsibilities were reporting on changes in commercial fishing law across the Atlantic in the Monthly Regulatory Updates section and on relevant news from conservation and fishing organizations. The true challenge in this piece was trying to be objective on matters concerning environmental damage. This section alone familiarized me with the structure and workings of Fisheries Councils, and exposed me to a variety of management methods and efforts. Researching the histories of the Fishery Management Plans strengthened my understanding of how the rules develop and how they might evolve in the future.

I also contributed a piece called Landings each month. Writing this piece made me more familiar with Catch Reports, reports that estimate how many of each species of fish are caught. I developed this piece over time to be about a single species with significant regulatory changes or oversights occurring, and potentially attributing over/underfishing to these issues.

My best day with the internship landed me in Gloucester, Massachusetts, interviewing fishermen. I had written a report about the Catch Share program and groundfish, explaining the theory behind it as taught to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics students. I was met with criticism from a number of industry workers, one of whom asked to talk more. I agreed, and there I was sharing chowder with a couple of men with more years on the water each than I had been alive. I was sympathetic to their plight and their arguments against the program. That day I realized two things about the industry. First, it was unforgiving and thankless to its workers at sea. Second, those that administered the law were often in violation of it while doing so. Catch Shares had fallen short of Magnuson-Stevens National Standard 8, which aims to protect fishing communities from “adverse economic impacts” among other language. I had been for Catch Shares 100% up until that point based on the theory behind it, but now I see flaws in the administration of the program.

Science communication is a difficult but rewarding discipline. I would like to think that my writing reached someone, and taught someone something previously unknown. I gained more than just factual knowledge; I learned to integrate the knowledge I had gained throughout my somewhat unconventional undergraduate years.

 

by Evan Connolly ’14

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Major

May 10th, 2014

RIPEP-er!

My internship as an Energy Fellow began in January 2014 and will continue through December 2014. What’s really interesting about my internship is that the other interns and I get to work on real projects that affect our state and get a real life experience in the workplace.

I am working at the URI Outreach Center on the Rhode Island Public Energy Partnership (RIPEP). RIPEP is a federal grant provided to the state to increase energy efficiency in the public sector by 20% by 2015. Of four major sectors – state, schools, municipalities, and water suppliers – I work with the state sector.

I use Microsoft Excel and Portfolio Manager to organize and analyze state energy data. First, I meet with state representatives to collect information about energy use in state buildings, including old bills, meter numbers, and account numbers. Then, I organize this data using Excel. Finally, I transfer all the data into Portfolio Manager, an online tool that tracks buildings’ energy consumptions and calculates an overall energy efficiency rating for each building.

Comparing energy efficiency ratings from various buildings show us which buildings are the least energy efficient. National Grid performs a “scoping study” on each of these low efficiency buildings. In a scoping study, National Grid goes to the building and finds problems in the building that are making it not energy efficient. After the scoping study is finished, the problems are addressed. Then the building owners can track the building’s energy efficiency on Portfolio Manager to make sure the building is attaining a high energy efficiency rating. Portfolio Manager is a tool that is not only useful for calculating energy efficiency but also for making sure that the building stays efficient after repairs and replacements have been made.

As this project goes into the summer, I will meet with state agencies like the Department of Administration, the Department of Transportation, University of Rhode Island, and many more. So far I have worked with my team here at the Outreach Center, the Office of Energy Resources in Providence, and National Grid. My internship provides plenty of opportunities to network with many people throughout the state and I’m sure there will be many more people for me to meet throughout the rest of my internship at the Outreach Center. I love working with energy efficiency and with this project. Before this internship I hardly knew anything about energy efficiency but this internship has taught me so much. I’m not even halfway through my internship year and I already love it.

 

by Marissa Pereira ’16

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Major + Business Minor

May 9th, 2014

E. Coli Testing

For my internship I worked with the Acton, Massachusetts Health Department where my main duty was to test natural water sources for E. Coli contamination. I sampled natural water sources for E. Coli on a daily basis. Each day, I first figured out what natural water source locations I would be testing, usually six to ten different sites. Then, I would gather up tools that I needed to collect the samples from the natural water sources. All I needed to collect these samples was one container for the water from each site, a marker to label the sites on the container, a map, and an extended arm pickup tool so I could retrieve samples without touching the water with my hand (almost like a robot arm). Then, I would drive the Department of Health’s company car (a Toyota Prius) to each natural water source location, collect the water samples, and bring them back to the Health Department.

Once I was back, I would run each sample through a filter, then put the filter paper into a petri dish and let that petri dish sit in an incubator over night. Then I would take out the petri dish samples we had in the incubator from the previous day and count the number of specs or dots on the petri dish filter paper. The number of dots on the filter paper shows how much E. Coli was in that water: the more dots the more E. Coli. This entire sampling process is known as the petri dish filtration method. After this process, I would put the data in an Excel spreadsheet that shows every natural water source test site in Acton, with the date and the amount of E. Coli contamination on that day. Lastly, I would analyze the data for trends and natural water sources that had too much E. Coli contamination.

blog pic

My internship didn’t directly deal with an environmental problem, but some of the results of my E. Coli water testing could have been an effect of an environmental problem. Runoff from nearby farms and agricultural areas can increase the amount of E. Coli in natural water sources. In agricultural and farm areas there is a large amount of fecal matter from both the animals and the soil in general. E. Coli comes from fecal matter and can then make its way from farms to natural water sources, causing an unnaturally high level of E. Coli in a natural water source. The highlight for me from this internship was that I actually got to be outside doing hands on work for the majority of each day. I love being outdoors; not being cooped up in an office all day was very enjoyable.

 

by Trevor MacDonald ’15

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Major + Business Minor

May 6th, 2014