Advanced Topics in Sustainable Energy:
In the elective course, Advanced Topics in Sustainable Energy, we overviewed the US electric industry and analyzed recent changes in policy that reflect the changing technological landscape disrupting the industry. In the last 20 years with the explosion of wind and solar energy installations, the once stagnant utility energy industry has had to evaluate their mechanisms of operation, financial models, and policies to remain profitable. US electric utilities have a unique relationship with the government through oversight, intense regulations and mandates. In the course we analyzed a variety of different state level policies that gave us an insight into the current policy solutions that different states have implemented. Each state is implementing sustainable energy solutions with varying methods and priorities dependent on that state’s energy demand, geography, climate and many more factors that are unique to each state. Sustainable energy solutions go beyond conservation and efficiency, and now include economically viable solutions such as renewable energy sources and storage. We discovered the economic practicality of systems through widely used methods such as cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis, in addition to exploring the LCOE (Levelized Cost of Electricity) for different renewable systems. The tools and knowledge we accumulated was then applied to a group project involving a Resident Owned Community (ROC). Our project evaluated the feasibility and economic practicality of outfitting a ROC with their own Solar field to gain energy and economic independence. My group specialized in evaluating the LCOE of a 100KW solar system and developed a financial plan with the intent of lowering participant electric bills and creating an economic engine to expand future efficiency programs within the community in addition to funding other renewable energy generation sources in the future.
The most important knowledge this course taught me was the economic viability of renewable energy sources through economies of scale to decrease the LCOE of these systems over time and through many policy options. Sustainable Energy systems will power our future needs for transportation, electricity, communication and more as we continue to electrify our lives. Developed Nations must continue to expand renewable energy systems to create a green future, and to aid in decreasing costs through economics of scale; the increased rate of adoption will benefit the economic feasibility for other developing nations in the future as costs decrease.
This course contributed to my sustainability dual major by giving me insight into electrification; a leading issue in sustainability and around the world. Electrification can reduce a nations carbon footprint through transportation or cooking, improved healthcare and education, and create a positive feedback loop reducing inequalities. But a nations electrification must be reliable and derived from renewable energy sources to make a lasting impact on the community, and the planet.