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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

3 Questions: Communities Need Renewable Energy Production Janelle Knox-Hayes | MIT News

Wind power will account for 8% of US electricity consumption in 2020 and is growing rapidly in the country’s energy portfolio. But some projects, like the now-defunct Cape He Wind proposal for offshore power generation in Massachusetts, were stalled by local opposition. Is there a way to avoid this in the future?

Professors Janelle Knox-Hayes and Donald Sudway of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think so.In a piece of perspective published today in the journal Jules, they and eight other professors are seeking new approaches to wind power deployment. It engages the community in a process of ‘co-designing’ and adapting solutions to local needs. The process could spur even more creativity in renewable energy engineering while making existing technologies more receptive to the community, they say. In addition to Knox-Hayes and Sadoway, co-authors of this paper are: Michael J. Aziz of Harvard University. Dennis F. Gamem of Johns Hopkins University. Kathryn Johnson of Colorado Mining School. Perry Lee of the University of Minnesota. Eric Ross of the University of Virginia. Lucy Y. Pao of the University of Colorado. Jessica Smith of the Colorado Mining School. Sonya Smith of Howard University.

Knox-Hayes is a Lister Brothers Associate Professor of Economic Geography and Planning in the Department of Urban Research and Planning at MIT and an expert on the social and political context of renewable energy deployment. Sadoway is a John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT and a global expert on the development of new forms of energy storage. MIT News spoke with Knox-Hayes on this topic.

Q: What is the central issue addressed in this article?

A: Acting as if technology can only be designed in silos and delivered to society is problematic. To solve problems like climate change, we need to think of technology as a socio-technical system. This system has been integrated into society since its inception. From a design perspective, it starts with understanding conversations, valuations, and what the community needs. If we can do that, it will be much easier to ultimately deliver the technology.

In the Northeast trying to meet climate and energy efficiency goals, we saw a lot of offshore wind needed and many projects stalled because the community was saying no. is. One of the reasons the community rejects projects is that they have never been properly consulted. What form does technology take and how does it work within the community? That conversation can push the boundaries of engineering.

Q: A new paper claims a new practice of ‘co-design’ in the field of renewable energy. You call this the “STEP” process. It represents all the social, technical, political and economic problems that an engineering project can encounter. How would you describe the idea of ​​STEP, and how open is the industry to new attempts to design established technologies?

A: The idea is to bring all these elements together in a multidisciplinary process and involve stakeholders. This process can begin with a series of community forums that bring everyone together for a needs assessment. This is a common method of planning. You may find that offshore wind energy should be considered in conjunction with local fisheries, equipment upgrades, or providing local workforce training. The STEP process allows us to step back and start with planners, policy makers and community members on the ground.

It’s also about changing the nature of research and practice and teaching so that students learn to collaborate with the community rather than just being in the classroom. Now that we are beginning to feel the effects of climate change, America must also transcend political boundaries and face reality. That’s the only way this can be done successfully, which brings us back to the question of how we can co-design technology.

At MIT, innovation is the spirit of striving, which is why MIT has so many industry partners engaged in initiatives like MITEI. [the MIT Energy Initiative] and the Climate Consortium. The value of partnership is that MIT is pushing the boundaries of what is possible. It’s the idea that we can move forward, do great things, and innovate the future. What this research suggests is that innovation doesn’t just happen in the lab, it’s built in partnership with the community and other stakeholders.

Q: To what extent does this approach apply to the other major renewable energy source, solar power? Communities should be aware of where solar arrays are placed and how homeowners, communities, and other solar hosts generate electricity. It looks like they are also working on how to compensate for the power.

A: We cannot say that solar power has the same challenges, but renewable technologies face similar challenges. With solar, there are also access and location issues. Another big challenge is creating funding models that offer value and opportunity at different scales. For example, is solar power viable for multifamily tenants who want to tap into clean energy? It’s a similar question for building microwind opportunities. Offshore winds have the limitation that line of sight can be a problem. But there are exciting technologies that have enabled deep-sea wind farms and floating turbines up to 50 kilometers offshore. Storage solutions such as hydro-pneumatic energy storage, gravity energy storage, and buoyancy storage help maintain transmission speed while reducing the number of transmission lines required.

For many communities, the reality of renewable energy is that if we can generate our own energy, we can establish a level of security and resilience that brings other benefits.

Nevertheless, as demonstrated in the Cape Wind case, technology [may be rejected] Unless the community was involved from the beginning. Participation in the community also creates other opportunities. For example, a high school student is an intern working on a renewable energy project with an engineer from a top local university. This gives families a point of access and allows them to be proud of the system they have created. It gives the technical system a greater sense of purpose and the success of the system to the community. It’s the difference between “arrived” and “made”. For researchers, this article is a reminder that engineering and design are more successful when they are inclusive. The engineering and design process should also be accessible and enjoyable.

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