Institute for Energy Studies Speaker Series

With the generous support of Alaska Airlines, the Institute for Energy Studies speaker series convenes energy experts from on and off campus and connects the Western Washington University and Bellingham energy communities. Speakers will explore the diverse fields of energy research and development, and also debate timely issues that connect public policy and business thinking to emerging knowledge in energy science and technology.

* Wednesdays at 4pm in CF115​​​
* The lectures are free and open to the public

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Date Spring 2018 Speakers Organization & Bio
April 11, 2018

Tim Kowalczyk - "Organic materials for solar energy: some speed bumps and overpasses on the road from photons to current"

Crystalline silicon is the cornerstone material of choice for affordable, utility-scale solar panel manufacturing. But what if we could replace the active silicon layer with even more abundant, environmentally benign materials that could also enable solar cells to be mechanically flexible, or even printable? At the laboratory scale, the essential design principles for such organic solar cells are well established, but gaps in our fundamental physical and chemical understanding of their operation stand in the way of competitive device efficiencies. In this talk, I will describe our efforts to fill in some of these gaps by applying computational models developed by my group and others to two important questions in this space. First, can a class of materials called covalent organic frameworks (COFs) be engineered to mobilize two electrons per high-energy photon absorbed? Second, how does encapsulation of a light-absorbing dye in a porous material affect its likelihood of converting absorbed solar energy into the separation of positive and negative charge? The answers to these questions are helping our collaborators and others to develop better rational design approaches to organic materials for solar energy conversion.

Professor - WWU Institute for Energy Studies, AMSEC and Chemistry
April 18, 2018

Joel Swisher"Toward a Comprehensive Deep De-carbonization Strategy: Energy and Land" 

“Deep De-carbonization” research is converging toward a strategy of continued efficiency improvement, low-carbon power generation, and electrified transport and heating. To achieve deep reductions, Deep De-carbonization scenarios call for draconian measures that drive marginal costs to high levels. Such costs might justify measures such as geological sequestration, but the role of carbon sequestration in land use is given little consideration. Meanwhile, huge potential is recognized for the reversal of the land carbon source to a sink in forests, farms, and grasslands worldwide, which would seem to offer an alternative to high-cost measures in the energy sector under a Deep De-carbonization scenario. It is still unclear how much land carbon potential is real, and even less clear how to capture it, which seems to require innovation in education, policy and markets to change attitudes, practices and incentives of farmers, ranchers and foresters worldwide. But, given the potential high cost of Deep De-carbonization scenarios, shouldn’t a comprehensive strategy for Deep De-carbonization consider conducting research and driving innovation that could enable capturing land-based carbon sequestration potential?

Director - WWU Institute for Energy Studies
April 25, 2018

Mark C. Trexler - "Project Drawdown and Climate Change Mitigation – Yet Another Silver Bullet Proposal, or Breakthrough Climate Strategy?"

Project Drawdown is getting A LOT of public attention when it comes to tackling climate change. Why is that, and is the attention deserved? What’s different about Project Drawdown’s findings, and how do those findings fit into the larger low-carbon transition conversation? We’ll explore these and related questions in an interactive way utilizing the Climate Web, an open-access climate change knowledgebase ( that comprehensively covers these and many other climate topics.

Dirctor, Climatographers; Curator, Climate Web; Professor, George Washington University.

May 2, 2018

Chris Greacen and Chom Greacen  - "Building and living in Common Ground, a net zero energy community land trust project on Lopez Island" 

Common Ground is an award-winning net-zero energy capable affordable housing neighborhood on Lopez Island, operated as a cooperative. The homese were built by residents, volunteers, and contractors under the leadership of the Lopez Community Land Trust. This talk will cover the Community Land Trust model, and the experience of building and living in one of these super efficient strawbale homes for the past ten years. Each of the 11 homes is heated largely through the passive solar features, augmented by electric heat (mostly with mini split heat pumps) that receive electricity from the community's net metered 33 kW solar array. Rainwater catchment provides water for laundry, toilets and outdoor spigots and permaculture. We'll discuss lessons learned, and how we would do some things differently if we were to start again, aided by technology changes and cost reductions since 2007.

Chris works a consultant to the World Bank, the German International Cooperation (GIZ), US Department of Energy, the Asian Development Bank on regulatory frameworks and technical analysis to support scale up of mini grids with a focus on Myanmar, SE Asia and Africa.

Chom works with NGOs and government officials to advance public interest considerations in power sector planning in Myanmar.

May 9, 2018

Joachim Seel - "Impacts of High Variable Renewable Energy Futures on Wholesale Electricity Prices, and on Electric-Sector Decision Making"

Increasing penetrations of variable renewable energy (VRE) can affect wholesale electricity price patterns and make them meaningfully different from past, traditional price patterns. Many long-lasting decisions for supply- and demand-side electricity infrastructure and programs are based on historical observations or assuming a business-as-usual future with low shares of VRE. Our motivating question is whether certain electric-sector decisions when made based on assumptions reflecting low VRE levels will still achieve their intended objective in a high VRE future. I qualitatively describe how various decisions may change with higher shares of VRE and outline an analytical framework for quantitatively evaluating the impacts of VRE on long-lasting decisions. I then present results from detailed electricity market simulations with capacity expansion and unit commitment models for multiple regions of the U.S. for low and high VRE futures. I find a general decrease in average annual hourly wholesale energy prices with more VRE penetration, increased price volatility and frequency of very low-priced hours, and changing diurnal price and marginal carbon emissions patterns. Ancillary service prices rise substantially and peak net-load hours with high capacity value are shifted increasingly into the evening, particularly for high solar futures. While in this talk I only highlight qualitatively the possible impact of these altered price patterns on other demand- and supply-side electric sector decisions, the core set of electricity market prices derived here provides a foundation for later planned quantitative evaluations of these decisions in low and high VRE futures.

Scientific Engineering Associate at the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

May 16, 2018

Siming Guo - "Challenges and the Opportunities in the Smart Grid"

The electricity power industry is undergoing large changes, many of which started in the last decade. The desire to increase renewable generation, coupled with the slow pace of infrastructure expansion, has led to increasing stresses being placed on the power grid. As a result, power engineers are tasked with finding the most optimal way to use existing resources. This has opened many opportunities for interesting research, which could catapult the aging power grid into the smart grid of the future. This talk will look at two current challenges: the unreliability of renewables, and the difficulty in finding fail-safe operating conditions. These two challenges will be used to highlight opportunities for both engineers and non-engineers to work in the power industry.

Assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina
May 23, 2018

Laura Schewel - "Putting Big Data to Work to Reduce Carbon Emissions from Transportation" 

In 2017, transportation replaced power as the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Despite its importance, transportation is one of the least-measured behaviors in the US. The path to reducing GHGs from transportation requires not just new vehicle technology, but also systemic personal behavior, infrastructure, and policy changes. To manage those transitions, we must first measure what is happening on our roads and sidewalks. In this talk, Laura will talk about the historical drivers of transportation energy use in the US, and explain new techniques to harness massive amounts of mobile data to measure current behavior. She will also discuss her experience trying to apply the insights from this data to policy and infrastructure decisions aimed and reducing GHG emissions from transportation.

Laura Schewel is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of StreetLight Data.
May 30, 2018

Brandon Provalenko - "Rural Electrification in Emerging Markets" 

Mini-grids, Micro-grids, and standalone renewable energy solutions have dramatically decreased in cost and increased in capability over the last decade, allowing for wide spread adoption in rural electrification applications. In fact, renewable energy solutions are more cost-competitive than the extension of the national grid in the vast majority of cases. Advantages of renewables such as low maintenance, dramatically reduced operating cost, long-life and little-to-no reliance on carbon-based fuels further encourage the growth of renewables in this application. As rural areas in developing and emerging countries are increasingly electrified, additional requirements and applications present themselves, creating opportunity for employment in system design, installation, and maintenance. Solutions to applications ranging from wildlife conservation to agriculture and the gaps in technology required for continued growth will be covered in this presentation.

Brandon Provalenko, Vice President of OutBack Power Technologies .
June 6, 2018

Institute for Energy Studies Graduating Students - "Presentations from the Capstone Class" 

ENRG 490 Students