Weathering the Storms – UConn Leads in Climate Adaptation (Part 2)

(Part 1 of this two-part blog looked at how a unique Adaptation amendment to UConn’s Climate Action Plan, approved by President Herbst in 2012, created a roadmap that has helped guide UConn to a leadership position on resiliency research and public service, especially with the creation of the ICRCA at Avery Point. Part 2 focuses on adaptation research, from clean energy microgrids to roadside forestry, with a preview of the half-day CIMA3 conference on March 31st.)

UConn’s Microgrid – A Model for Clean and Resilient Energy Infrastructure

Most residents in the state will remember the challenges of being without electricity for up to 10 days in the aftermath of at least one of the major storms we’ve experienced in recent years.  In response, Connecticut now leads the nation with its innovative microgrid program, which once again features UConn as a key player and potentially as a statewide center of excellence.  Under its three phase, multi-year microgrid program, DEEP provides grant funding for high-tech switchgear, independent distribution systems and automated controls that enable on-site, efficient, and preferably clean, energy-generating sources to operate in “island mode,” separate from the utility-owned grid.

Last year, UConn was in the initial group of nine, including municipalities, hospitals and other college campuses, to receive a phase one incentive grant. In our case, $2.14 million in funding will be used to convert our 400 kW ClearEdge fuel cell, a source of combined heat and power to most of the UConn-owned and occupied buildings at the Depot, along with a small PV solar array, into a clean energy microgrid.  In turn, when this system is installed and operating this fall, it will ensure continuous power to certain facilities that can meet public needs during extended grid power outages, like electric vehicle charging stations, a communications command center for UConn police and fire departments, and community warming centers, with kitchens and restrooms.

Installed in 2012, the fuel cell generates heat and power through an electrochemical reaction, similar to a battery, not through combustion. Our Depot Campus fuel cell reduces UConn’s carbon footprint by more than 800 tons a year compared to receiving power from the grid or using more conventional fuel-burning sources of energy.  Thus, UConn’s microgrid not only makes for a more resilient and reliable energy infrastructure but also helps promote the use of cleaner, renewable, and more efficient energy sources.

Beyond these immediate operational and public benefits, UConn’s microgrid will be another example of a state-of-the-art “living laboratory,” i.e., an on-campus platform for research and a functional demonstration project for education and outreach. Already, a half-dozen faculty members affiliated with the University’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2), led by Dr. Peter Luh in Electrical & Computer Engineering, are preparing and envisioning research grant proposals on hot microgrid topics like energy storage, advanced optimization and ultra-fast programmable networks for virtual energy management.

Courtesy of Dr. Peter Luh (E&CE) and Dr. Peng Zhang (E&CE)
Courtesy of Dr. Peter Luh (E&CE) and Dr. Peng Zhang (E&CE)

There is yet another benefit to UConn for being on the cutting edge of this emerging microgrid technology: corporate R&D partnerships. On February 26th, nearly 60 people, representing dozens of potential industry partners, in Hartford for a three-day “Next Generation Microgrids” conference, visited the Depot for presentations and tours of the University’s C2E2 and recently-established Fraunhofer Center for Energy Innovation.  This visit was an opportunity to further showcase UConn’s leadership in these important aspects of climate adaptation and sustainable energy. The audience was a representative cross-section of the energy industry, including small and large, regional and international companies, all with an interest in microgrid R&D. The conference brochure touted a “staggering growth” since 2011 in installed microgrid capacity worldwide, with a “market value…likely to reach up to $27 billion by 2022.”

Plenty of good reasons for UConn to stay at the forefront of microgrid research!

UConn Research Helping Connecticut Adapt to Climate Change

Meanwhile, there are many University faculty members, across a variety of disciplines, who are conducting adaptation-related research. To highlight just a few:

  • Dr. Mark Boyer, a Political Science professor who focuses on environmental politics and is the director of UConn‘s new Environmental Studies B.A. degree program, is looking at the drivers and barriers to local governance of climate change.  In particular, he’s studied climate adaptation policies, ordinances and other initiatives adopted by Connecticut towns.
  • Dr. Manos Anagnostou (Environmental Engineering/ENVE), Dr. Brian Hartman (Math), Dr. Marina Astitha (ENVE) and PhD candidate Dave Wanik (ENVE) are working on weather-based damage prediction models for the electric distribution system in CT and MA. The models relate high resolution weather forecasts, distribution infrastructure and GIS data to historic damage observations, and will soon include tree trimming data as a model input.
  • Related research into mitigating tree failure by Drs. Mark Rudnicki, John Volin (Natural Resources & the Environment) and Thomas Worthley (Extension) will further enhance reliability of the grid through management of trees and forest edges near power lines.  Part of their “Stormwise” initiative was recently featured in this Hartford Courant article and this report on WNPR. The total Stormwise initiative is developing a systems approach which integrates the biophysical, economic and social dimensions needed for successfully increasing the resilience of trees, forests and the utility infrastructure to expected future storms. Follow them @StormwiseUCONN

Also, led by Dr. Jim Edson (Marine Sciences), nearly two dozen faculty members in UConn’s inter-disciplinary Atmospheric Sciences Group, along with affiliated graduate Research Assistants, met last month to discuss their climate change-related research.  Many are studying the impacts of climate change on everything from terrestrial biota, to coastlines, estuaries and oceans. Much of this research is intended to provide data that will guide the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies, pursuant to the mission of UConn’s new Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation.

You can learn more about this research by attending UConn’s third annual Climate Impact Mitigation & Adaptation (CIMA3) conference, scheduled for March 31st at the Student Union Theater and in the SU’s Room 104, across from Chuck & Auggie’s and the Blue Cow.

By Rich Miller, Director of the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) and Kerrin Kinnear, OEP intern (4th semester, ENVST)


Rapid Responses to Climate Change: The Actions We Need To Take

  • 9:00 – Introductory remarks by Provost Mun Choi
  • 9:15 – Keynote address from Curt Spalding, EPA’s top official in New England
  • 10:00 – A panel of TED talks on the impacts of climate change on environmental systems, featuring a variety of  UConn faculty experts
  • 11:30 – 1:00 – The “CIMA Café” & Plain-Language Poster Session – a free networking lunch – enjoy finger food from Dining Services’ sustainable catering menu as you mingle with other students, faculty and staff during a “plain language” poster session explaining CIMA-related UConn research, centers and programs
  • 12:30 – Closing plenary remarks by Dr. Eban Goodstein, Director of Bard College’s Center of Environmental Policy and Sustainability MBA, best known as lead organizer of Power Shift, Focus the Nation, and other higher ed-focused climate action initiatives.
  • 1:30 – Conference concludes

Come and see for yourself what makes UConn a leader in Climate Adaptation!  For more information about the event, please contact UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy at (860) 486-5773.

Regional EPA Administrator Curt Spaulding speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton. Seated from left are Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Provost Mun Choi. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Regional EPA Administrator Curt Spaulding speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton. Seated from left are Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Provost Mun Choi. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Eban Goodstein
Eban Goodstein

Climate Impact, Mitigation, and Adaptation: a Reflection on Our Future

“Climate Impact, Mitigation, and Adaptation: a Reflection on Our Future,” was a four day climate-centric event that occurred in late March. The intent of CIMA was to engage all levels of the Storrs and UConn communities in productive discussions about the implications that a warming climate will have on our society and our environment. As public concerns grow about environmental issues and global warming the conversations have often focused on the science behind climate change and what people can do to mitigate its causes and impacts. This event was progressive in its inclusion of climate change adaptation, or what steps people may take to alleviate the harmful effects of global warming and even to explore where humans may stand to benefit from a warmer environment. This theme was consistent throughout the week; each speaker wove their own experiences and backgrounds into the central ideas of CIMA.

CIMA’s opening ceremonies included brief talks by DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty, Dr. Gene Likens of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, and UConn’s President Susan Herbst. The event culminated in a rededication of the University to its Climate Action Plan as well as a signed endorsement of a new “Adaptation” section by President Herbst. Guests and speakers alike stuck around the North Reading Room of Wilbur Cross for the following reception, featuring local food and drink arranged by UConn’s Dining Services.

Tuesday’s events were focused on community engagement. Independent journalist and author, Mark Hertsgaard, spoke during the day as well as at the event, Climate Impact Expo: Actions for Cool Communities, that evening. As the keynote speaker, Hertsgaard’s talk, “Inspiring Our Communities To Fight Global Warming,” detailed cases where communities had come together to implement responsible practices and planning in their own areas. The Climate Impact Expo was a forum for Mansfield community entities striving to forge a sustainable culture to showcase their organization and build connections for future collaboration.

President Susan Herbst signs UConn’s climate action plan during the opening ceremony of “Climate Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation: A reflection of Our Future”, a symposium held at the Wilbur Cross North Reading Room on March 26, 2012. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Students were emphasized during Wednesday’s CIMA events. The day began with a climate and environment research and interactive Eco-footprint exhibition in the Student Union. Displayed all day, the aim was to allow students and passersby to peruse cutting edge UConn based research into climate change and adaptation or else evaluate their consumption practices in such categories as water, energy, and food. The Student Day culminated with the afternoon’s panel discussion, “Sustainability: What UConn Students Should Know,” which strove to bring students into an open conversation with professionals as well as other students about environmental, agricultural, and industry based aspects of sustainability. Panelists David Tine and Paul Popinchalk of the Glastonbury based energy consulting firm Celtic Energy brought pragmatic insights into the outlook of alternative energy alternatives, stressing that the first step is increasing efficiency of current technology. President Herbst’s newly appointed environmental adviser, Dr. Gene Likens, discussed his views on the student role in sustainability and discussed his experiences in environmental research. Julia Cartobiano, an organic farmer, Trevor Biggs and Laura Dunn, two UConn students, discussed their views and history in sustainable agriculture as well as answered questions concerning the harmful effects of industrial agriculture.

The culmination of CIMA occurred on Thursday March 29th, with the last Teale Lecture of the year featuring controversial climatologist Dr. Michael Mann. He spoke about his research into climate change, his findings, and some of the legal troubles that hindered its acceptance by the public. As introductions were given by Dr. Kathleen Segerson  and Provost Peter Nichols students, community members, staff and faculty poured through the doors of the Konover Auditorium to hear Dr. Mann speak. The event was so well attended that the aisles had to be cleared and multiple rooms on campus were commandeered for remote viewing. The talk was well delivered; Mann showed his expertise at bridging the gap between the public and scientific community. An engaged audience led to an interesting question and answer session and contributed to an ideal ending the week of Climate Change awareness.

CIMA proved to be a groundbreaking event at UConn. The level of collaboration between diverse academic departments, the Mansfield community, and the student body was inspiring and should serve as a model for future projects. As such, the great success of CIMA was not only the unique approach it took to Climate Adaptation but the scope of the groups that were engaged in the conversations it provoked. With Climate Change on the minds of the Storrs Mansfield public and academic communities, as well as the action items of the newly adopted Adaptation Section of the Climate Action Plan, CIMA has helped set the foundation for assimilation of research, outreach, and infrastructure into the progress of the movement towards sustainability at UConn.