Behavior

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

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

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