An exciting beginning to my time at EPRI

My first few weeks at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) have been a whirlwind! EPRI is non-profit that conducts research, development, and demonstration projects for the benefit of the public in the United States and internationally. It was founded by Dr. Chauncey Starr in response to the Great Northeastern Blackout in November 1965, which left 30 million people in the U.S. without electricity. After a formal hearing with the the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, EPRI was established to strengthen the fragmented electric industry and address its technical and operational challenges. The electricity sector has advanced greatly since then and so has EPRI. However, one thing has stayed consistent - EPRI continues to promote electricity that is affordable, reliable, and environmentally responsible.

EPRI’s focus on affordable, clean energy research excited me! There are many energy efficiency benefits for low to moderate income (LMI) households, utilities, and communities, such as lowered electric and gas demand which improves public health. With my experiences as a first generation and low-income student, I wanted to understand how increased access to efficient electricity is a means of poverty reduction. I emphasized this during my interview with my now boss, Bienvenido Clarin, and was placed as a Building Science Engineer within the Advanced Buildings Program. During my internship, I am investigating a current research gap – what are the current electrification opportunities and barriers within LMI communities in the U.S.? Answering this multifaceted question requires input from and collaboration between community members, researchers, government agencies, and utilities.

To begin answering this pressing question, I organized a webinar titled “Lessons Learned from Designing, Developing, and Implementing Efficiency Programs to Enable Healthy and Affordable Communities”. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and New York State Energy Research Authority (NYSERDA) set the stage of the webcast by providing a detailed national and state perspective on current low-income assistance programs, respectively. Utilities from across the U.S. with LMI-focused energy efficiency programs then followed and offered their insights. Some, like Lincoln Electric System, were launching pilot programs whereas others, such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Roanoke Electric Cooperative, and Consolidated Edison, had long standing and well-established programs. Each speaker discussed their organizations’ motivations behind each LMI efficiency program, provided key takeaways, and offered recommendations for other interested stakeholders. It was fascinating to hear both the programs’ success stories and the speakers’ obvious passion for their work. Organizing this webcast laid a strong foundation for me to begin my research project.

This internship has also provided countless learning opportunities outside of the office. At the 2019 Silicon Valley Energy Summit (SVES), hosted by Stanford University, I witnessed an exhilarating debate on “Should California continue to build its proposed high speed rail system?”, was inspired by Cyclotron Road fellows’ innovative projects, and was intrigued by upcoming corporate energy goals. This week, EPRI is hosting their 2019 U.S. Symposium Series: Pathways to Decarbonization in the Western U.S. at U.C. Berkeley and my team will be attending. I’m excited to return to bear territory and see what’s in store!