On Site: North American Student Energy Summit

Hello ChE world! My name is Erin Alderink and I am a rising senior studying chemical engineering at the University of Michigan. This summer I am an intern in the WISE (Washington Internships for Students of Engineering) Program and through this program, engineering students from different fields are funded via the professional engineering societies (AIChE, ASME, ASTM, SAE, IEEE, ASHRAE, ANS) to research a technical public policy issue of our choice. AIChE is kindly funding three interns this summer for the program, Sravya Khasnavees, Sam White, and myself. We spend the summer in Washington, D.C., researching our topic of choice in the Library of Congress, meeting with many people in the area who can help us with our work, and going to various events that deal with our policy topic. The topic that I have chosen to research is research and development (R&D) funding policy for renewable sources of energy - solar, wind, hydro, geothermal - and how it is limiting the ability for them to break into the energy market and be a major contributor to energy generation.

Students gather to discuss energy issues

Sravya, Sam, and I are each looking into an aspect of energy policy, we attended the North American Student Energy Summit (NASES) in New York City on June 19-20, thanks to support from AIChE. At NASES, we had the opportunity to hear various people involved in energy give their opinions and ideas, answer questions, and discuss topics such as fossil fuels, climate change, renewable energy sources, and innovation. It was fascinating to hear professionals share their knowledge and thoughts about what is happening in the world pertaining to the future of energy, especially when the professionals came from different corners and disagreed. They also impressed upon us that the answers to some of the questions and conflicts are extremely complex and that we will be the ones making decisions about them in the near future. It was provided the unique experience of bringing together students studying many different things, such as engineering, environment, policy, marketing, and economics, from the United States, Canada, and beyond. We were all able to hear professionals talk about energy, ask questions, interact with each other, and discuss our own ideas and thoughts. My favorite part of NASES was the interactive sessions where we were able to choose which session to attend. I chose the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Innovation Jam where we each went on stage and pitched our ideas about energy for the future, whether it be research we are working on, possible policy solutions, or something else.

Students compete for cash to implement ideas

After the initial pitches, we formed groups based on interest and discussed these ideas further before final pitches competed for a $1000 prize from Conoco Phillips to implement the idea. I took this opportunity and pitched the idea we came up with to have equipment in gyms that harness the energy from treadmills, bikes, and elliptical machines and help power the building, while creating an incentive for members the more that they come to the gym and provide energy. Even though my pitch did not win the prize, it did receive an honorable mention and it was great practice for expressing ideas to a crowd. Overall, NASES was a great experience and definitely contributed to what I am working on for the WISE Program. I was not sure what to expect going in, but I was impressed by the number and span of professionals who came to speak to us and how well organized the program was. The program is only about five years old, was started by a group of students, and was planned largely by a group of students with the assistance of some partners. I highly recommend future summits to students interested in being involved with energy or those in industry to inquire about partnering. Thank you, AIChE, for supporting us on this experience!