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Summer 2012 Blog - David Miller

David Miller is spending twelve weeks at the Fraunhofer MOEZ, a research institute in Leipzig, Germany.

July 31, 2012

We’re now racing right through the last two weeks, and I can feel a bit of nostalgia setting in. I mean, the ladies at the bakery in our building finally guess what I’m going to order before I make it up to the counter (it’s hard to avoid eating a lot of bread when it’s everywhere). Besides that, I’ve had a great time getting to know my co-workers here at Fraunhofer, and have been really blessed to get to know them. Last week I worked in Kassel, a city in Hessen almost directly in the middle of Germany. As a side note for anyone who remembers their early U.S. history, Hessians (the people from Hessen, or Hesse in German) were hired as mercenaries by the British to fight the Americans, and many stayed in the States after the war. Needless to say, that never came up last week.

Fraunhofer IBP (or Institute for Building Physics–luckily the English translation has the same initials as the German title), where I spent most of my time, studies energy efficiency in buildings from a technical perspective. Having stared at pages on pages of government reports and policies related to the regulation side of building energy efficiency, it was nice to actually get to dig into some of the science. I helped prepare IBP’s portion of a larger questionnaire being developed by Fraunhofer MOEZ in Leipzig along with some partners in other parts of Germany. This mostly amounted to me pouring through some technical papers and reports trying to figure out what technical issues might clog the chances of rural-urban energy partnerships. Hint, they’re mostly infrastructure-related.

Luckily, many gaps in my education got caught and filled. Take, for example, exergy, which is basically the energy which is available to be used from a given resource. So energy as a whole doesn’t really produce work, exergy does. Exergy efficiency tries to match high-exergy needs (like very high temperatures needed in industrial processes) with high-exergy sources (fossil fuels and electricity), and low-exergy needs (space heating in houses) with low-exergy sources (waste heat from industrial processes). Some communities have begun building heat networks, capturing and moving heat to allow it to cascade from high-temperature needs to low.

So there I sat, enjoying one of the warmest weeks of the summer with a view to a recently grown-over field which will soon be filled with new university buildings, trying to figure out what obstacles to heat networks and renewable energy installations might exist, and what might hinder adaptation of the existing infrastructure.

Besides getting to learn about the work they’re up to and trying to get into the technical minds of stakeholders in those energy partnerships, I actually got to see a lot of the city. Kassel holds an art festival, Documenta, every five years, so the city was doused in large-scale art installations and performances. Running through the city a couple of nights, I saw stones in trees, pink houses, plant-covered hills of water bottles, and a field of white tents camped next to the Occupy movement with different kinds of abuse and sin written on them (abuse of office, wrath, greed, corruption).

Back in Leipzig now, I’m gonna be giving a presentation on my summer work tomorrow. It’s all wrapping up!

Go bears!


June 4, 2012

david_outside_buildingThe outside of Fraunhofer’s building–their office is on the top floor.

For the next ten weeks I’ll be working with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (which is, the Fraunhofer Society—Europe’s largest applied research organization) at their Center for Middle-and Eastern Europe.  Specifically, I’m working with the department on Energy and Social Dialogue, which is relatively new and is still in the process of solidifying its focus.

The past two weeks have seen me reading hundreds of pages of European policy directives, briefs, implementation reports, and laws, all surrounding the pursuit of energy efficiency of the European building stock. Ask me anything about energy certification or incentive programs for efficiency-improving renovations or efficient new construction projects in Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Poland, or Hungary and I could probably give you a better answer than I ever expected myself to be able to.  With some variation between these countries, the building stock consumes, on average, about 40% of all energy consumed there, making its improvement vitally important if the European Union’s 2020 vision of reducing energy consumption by 20% from its 2000 base has any chance of succeeding. A complex history, especially of construction and ownership rights, as you can imagine in these former Soviet satellite nations, makes studying these markets even more interesting.

Take Poland, for example, where many of the massive apartment blocks constructed during the communist era were divided up into individual apartments and ownership handed over to their occupants with the fall of the old regime. These buildings are particularly inefficient, having been constructed in many European nations after the war to hasten reconstruction, and needing the consent of hundreds of different people making an efficiency-improving renovation very difficult to achieve.  Accordingly, what I have been mostly studying are the numerous overlapping (and unfortunately, usually not rigorously evaluated) financial incentive programs run by the EU and national governments to help nudge owners and builders of residential and commercial structures towards a slightly less energy-intensive future.

david_leipzig_hallLeipzig City Hall

These governments are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on many of these programs, yet do not track the benefits their money as brought, which has lead to a lot of inefficient allocation, as those receiving grants aren’t well-incentivized to try to maximize energy reductions before receiving funds.  So I’ll be analyzing these programs for the time being, looking for good practices, weak policies, and hopefully producing some reports to help inform future financial expenditures.

And as for Leipzig, this is a beautiful and much more active city than I had imagined (we had some massive city festival this weekend, a Goth festival last weekend, and then the Fußball-Europameisterschaft starts up this week, and, well, soccer in Europe is madness!.  Our office is really laid-back compared to other workplaces I’ve had). And there are a lot of student interns from the Universität Leipzig, which is across the street.

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