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Summer 2014 Blog - Saundarya Mehra

Saundarya Mehra is spending the summer at Fraunhofer MOEZ in Germany

July 22, 2014

There are around two weeks left for my time in Germany. Walking around the streets of Leipzig, I can  already tell how much I am going to miss this corner of the world. Work is the busiest it has ever been! I have been updating the revamping the European Union’s EFFESUS website. The EFFESUS project is one that intrigued me most about Fraunhofer and this specific  internship when I first applied to the Cal Energy Corp. Emphasizing energy efficiency in hisotrically significant buildings, the EFFESUS project marks a collaboration between multiple European Union countries and their respective research institutions, universities, local governments, and businesses. The project is still underway and I am glad to have contributed to it through developing the website, updating it, and creating the July Newsletter for the program. There are two newsletters in a year and I am in charge of making the July 2014 publication which will cover the progress of the project and will be disseminated through the website and through the project participants (so it has to be perfect!).

On top of that, my own research paper is slowly coming together. I have around 20 pages complete with information on the benefits and roadblocks to implementing local renewable energy systems in Modesto (so multi-tasking and task prioritization have been key!). Since I am comparing Modesto with Kassel, a city in the Hesse state of Germany, I was able to interview Jan Kollak, the International Communications manager at the Institute for Decentralized Wind Energy in Kassel. This was one of the coolest things I have done here! Being able to dive in and conduct field research through interviews was very rewarding and truly made me realize the richness of primary sources. In addition, I was also able to interview David Olivares, the renewable energy expert at the Modesto Irrigation District (Modesto’s public utility). Both phone calls provided great resources and leads to concepts of my research that I hadn’t considered or known before.

For example, Mr. Olivares spoke about the independent nature of Modesto natives and how that initially spurred the development of the Modesto Irrigation District public utility instead of the usual Pacific Gas and Electric IOU we have in northern California. This only reaffirmed my hypothesis to institute local power in the region and involve citizens in the electricity management thereby  adding value to the community. In the last couple weeks, I hope to complete this report to some extent and also establish a working relationship with Fraunhofer that extends beyond my two months here. Hopefully they can provide input on this report as I expand upon it in greater detail once I get back.  

Aside from that the excitement of the World Cup has been unparalleled. In Germany, before German games, people usually stake out a spot with their friends. Usually the places with nice big TV screens are the top destinations.. When my friend Christina and I arrived at the main public viewing in Leipzig at 7pm, we were surprised (I don’t know why, we really should have expected it) to find it packed already. At this point, we were coming from the main train station after our weekend excursion in Vienna and still had our duffel bags and backpacks (so squeezing through the crowd didn’t seem like an option). Luckily, one of my friends from work had staked out a table at a restaurant right next to the FanFest. We were able to put our stuff down and hang out there until around 8:30pm, at which point we realized that staying inside, sheltered from all the madness outdoors, would be a shame to all the American football fans who wished they could be in Germany at this time. So we left our stuff with my generous friend, and ventured into the crowd to watch the game on the big screen outside.


The excitement. The build-up. The anxiety. The overtime. THE MIRACULOUS GOAL BY GOTZE (who is a celebrity in Germany now).

At the sounds of the final seconds, the streets were full of people waving flags and blasting music, cars honking their horns and speeding through with flags being waved by the people in the passenger seats, fireworks blasting at every street corner. It was the sound of freedom and victory after a 24 year wait and I couldn’t believe my timing.

On that note, when I look back on my 7 weeks here so far, they feel surreal. I will cherish them forever and look back on them with fond appreciation.Post World Cup win, I am still in kind of a euphoria you could call it. Everyone here is. As I write this right now in my office, the colleagues behind me all watch videos of the winning goal on Youtube while the sweet sounds of victory hum quietly around us.

July 7, 2014

The most common question I have gotten from friends back home seems to be about the type of work I am actually doing here in Germany. I guess my blogging mistakenly deviated from the details of my Monday to Friday, 9-4pm week, and naively focused on the summer adventures during my free time. But that’s not saying that what goes on during the 40 hour work weeks is monotonous. In fact, unlike most jobs, my internship at Fraunhofer MOEZ is basically paying me to research exactly what I would look up anyways!

Currently I am working on an independent research project that falls within the scope of my supervisor’s expertise. I get to compare Kassel, a city in Germany, to Modesto, California, a city much closer to home. I am trying to figure out why Modesto, an urban city in the heart of the agricultural rich Stanislaus county, does not utilize it’s sunshine, wind, and land to install local renewable energy plants in its farms. By doing so, they would become energy independent as a county and an extremely large producer of renewable energy. In Germany, Kassel is a city very similar to Modesto, with a moderately urban city center and agricultural land in the surrounding Kassel Kreis (District). Unlike Modesto, however, it has implemented a robust wind power program in its rural areas to ease the electricity demand of the city during peak hours. Their rural and urban cooperation as allowed agricultural land to be far more productive than before and has turned them into a very sustainable city. In my research, I am examining the potential barriers that prevent Modesto from doing the same. Since this research is very applicable and targeted, I will be interviewing experts in the field of decentralized power systems, local policy makers in both cities, and key players in the rural and urban relationship. I think the best part of this project is the fact that I was able to shape it myself and that I will be able to see the results of it right near home. As for now, there is a lot more to be done, so there is a slight possibility I might continue it beyond my time here at Fraunhofer and bring it back to the States with me.

It is sad to think that I only have 4 weeks of work left here. That is the problem with summer internships, just as you start getting comfortable and involved in your work, it is time to pack up and head back home. It is unfortunate that I can’t spend more time here at Fraunhofer because it truly is such a great organization. The most prominent research institute in Germany, it focuses on application based research in all fields from technology to politics. The best part about the institute is its diverse profile of employees who all have that one little topic they are obsessed with and can talk to you for hours about. Those are the best coffee-break conversations.

Just last Friday, the city of Leipzig (a hub of intelligent students, professors, and researchers) hosted a Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften (Long night of science) from 6pm to 12am (Yep, they did not exaggerate on the “long”). I ended up working the front desk (which was a terribly poor placement) and was awed at the power of a smile and nod in greeting people. My lack of German speaking-skills resulted in me reciting memorized lines like “Hello, welcome to Fraunhofer!” and “Do you have a Passport (ticket thing to get a price)?”  and “Enjoy!” and “Thank you for coming!” in German. I still have that crumpled piece of paper lying around somewhere…


Working the reception


The building blocks of innovation!


FIFA in the office

With more than 150 participants, the Lange Nacht was a definite success! I learned a bit of German, got a Fraunhofer swag bag, and hung out with fellow student interns that I would usually just pass by in the office.

Since then, I have been working diligently on my research project + other intern responsibilities. And so I am EXTRA excited for my well-deserved weekend getaway to Prague starting Friday. Although I will be missing the Germany France game (it is crazy how much I enjoy these things now), I will be reuniting with a dear high school friend (AGENT X) that I haven’t seen in ages and exploring the beautiful city of Prague on the other side of the world with her. I’ll be sure to post updates from the trip when I get back.

Viel Spaß!

June 17th, 2014

It’s my third week here at Fraunhofer MOEZ and I can’t believe time has flown so quickly. My colleagues have been more than welcoming—we frequently lunch together, go out to watch World Cup matches after work, and go for day trips over the weekend. Even at work, they are more than helpful in teaching me the most common German business phrases (Genau! ). I have been able to sit in on some conferences on Bioenergy in Germany at Fraunhofer. Given that they were in German, I was happy to understand around 30% of the conversation. The exposure from working internationally is invaluable—I have learned so much about Germany’s energy policies with respect to the United States. Currently I am working on my own independent research project that compares the two leaders in global energy issues. My project aims to foster Rural-Urban cooperation in integrating local renewable energy supply from rural areas to nearby urban cities with high demand. By creating a dialogue between rural and urban policy officials, we hope to foster integration between the two regions in sharing their renewable energy supply. I am comparing to a city called Kassel in Germany to Modesto in California. Hopefully, I can share this research with the City of Modesto once I am back home.

And, of course, after hours, the work hard play hard lifestyle I became so familiar with at Berkeley is taken to a whole new level here. My workdays are from 9:30am-4pm so I usually have around 6 hours of sunlight even after I get off work (it doesn’t get dark until around 11pm) to explore the city and enjoy Leipzig. Yesterday, I went to the Cospudener See after work, around 20 minutes away from my house) and it was more packed than any California beach would be on a Tuesday evening. I guess having longer days forces people to go outside (plus there’s no Netflix so what would you do at home anyways) combined with the fact that Germans love their outdoors and rare moments of sunshine.

Colleagues from Fraunhofer (1)Colleagues from Fraunhofer

Colleagues from Fraunhofer

I definitely saw people taking advantage of the heat this past weekend in Germany’s capital. In honor of the long weekend, I visited Berlin for 4 days and attended the Karneval der Kulturen festival. There must have been at least 50,000 people, mostly all Berliners with swimsuits, flower headbands, beer, and all their friends, attending the parade. With more than 80 floats, the parade ranged for about a solid 4 hours. Floats 1-65 were of different countries and cultures in Berlin, everything from Vietnamese to Gothic floats, and the last 10-15 trucks were just representing different types of music! Just to list a few: House, Techno, Caribbean, and iTunes Top 50. Each one of these trucks had around this many people dancing and following it from behind. Ah, the atmosphere was amazing; no description would do it justice! And the best thing was that it was a reunion of all ages—from the youngest children enjoying the parade to the oldest grandparents watching from atop of their balconies! Berlin, a city only 25 years old, is truly a melting pot of cultures that manages to teach its party culture and work hard play harder attitude to all its locals. I think the best way to describe Berlin in total would be a European version of San Francisco and Berkeley; a huge alternative techno music scene, a grungy and dirty vibe to the city that is so prevalent in Berkeley, hipsters and local Berliners who think they are cooler than everyone else, San Francisco’s vibe of creativity and hard work, all combined to make a European rendition otherwise known as the capital of Germany. So much history. So much personality. I absolutely loved it.

I hope to travel more over the weekends and take advantage of the fact that I am in Europe, but for now, it is time to get to work! Maybe writing about Modesto will ease the California homesickness? Until next time! Tschüss!

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