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Weathering the Storms – UConn Leads in Climate Adaptation (Part 2)

(Part 1 of this two-part blog looked at how a unique Adaptation amendment to UConn’s Climate Action Plan, approved by President Herbst in 2012, created a roadmap that has helped guide UConn to a leadership position on resiliency research and public service, especially with the creation of the ICRCA at Avery Point. Part 2 focuses on adaptation research, from clean energy microgrids to roadside forestry, with a preview of the half-day CIMA3 conference on March 31st.)

UConn’s Microgrid – A Model for Clean and Resilient Energy Infrastructure

Most residents in the state will remember the challenges of being without electricity for up to 10 days in the aftermath of at least one of the major storms we’ve experienced in recent years.  In response, Connecticut now leads the nation with its innovative microgrid program, which once again features UConn as a key player and potentially as a statewide center of excellence.  Under its three phase, multi-year microgrid program, DEEP provides grant funding for high-tech switchgear, independent distribution systems and automated controls that enable on-site, efficient, and preferably clean, energy-generating sources to operate in “island mode,” separate from the utility-owned grid.

Last year, UConn was in the initial group of nine, including municipalities, hospitals and other college campuses, to receive a phase one incentive grant. In our case, $2.14 million in funding will be used to convert our 400 kW ClearEdge fuel cell, a source of combined heat and power to most of the UConn-owned and occupied buildings at the Depot, along with a small PV solar array, into a clean energy microgrid.  In turn, when this system is installed and operating this fall, it will ensure continuous power to certain facilities that can meet public needs during extended grid power outages, like electric vehicle charging stations, a communications command center for UConn police and fire departments, and community warming centers, with kitchens and restrooms.

Installed in 2012, the fuel cell generates heat and power through an electrochemical reaction, similar to a battery, not through combustion. Our Depot Campus fuel cell reduces UConn’s carbon footprint by more than 800 tons a year compared to receiving power from the grid or using more conventional fuel-burning sources of energy.  Thus, UConn’s microgrid not only makes for a more resilient and reliable energy infrastructure but also helps promote the use of cleaner, renewable, and more efficient energy sources.

Beyond these immediate operational and public benefits, UConn’s microgrid will be another example of a state-of-the-art “living laboratory,” i.e., an on-campus platform for research and a functional demonstration project for education and outreach. Already, a half-dozen faculty members affiliated with the University’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2), led by Dr. Peter Luh in Electrical & Computer Engineering, are preparing and envisioning research grant proposals on hot microgrid topics like energy storage, advanced optimization and ultra-fast programmable networks for virtual energy management.

Courtesy of Dr. Peter Luh (E&CE) and Dr. Peng Zhang (E&CE)

Courtesy of Dr. Peter Luh (E&CE) and Dr. Peng Zhang (E&CE)

There is yet another benefit to UConn for being on the cutting edge of this emerging microgrid technology: corporate R&D partnerships. On February 26th, nearly 60 people, representing dozens of potential industry partners, in Hartford for a three-day “Next Generation Microgrids” conference, visited the Depot for presentations and tours of the University’s C2E2 and recently-established Fraunhofer Center for Energy Innovation.  This visit was an opportunity to further showcase UConn’s leadership in these important aspects of climate adaptation and sustainable energy. The audience was a representative cross-section of the energy industry, including small and large, regional and international companies, all with an interest in microgrid R&D. The conference brochure touted a “staggering growth” since 2011 in installed microgrid capacity worldwide, with a “market value…likely to reach up to $27 billion by 2022.”

Plenty of good reasons for UConn to stay at the forefront of microgrid research!

UConn Research Helping Connecticut Adapt to Climate Change

Meanwhile, there are many University faculty members, across a variety of disciplines, who are conducting adaptation-related research. To highlight just a few:

  • Dr. Mark Boyer, a Political Science professor who focuses on environmental politics and is the director of UConn‘s new Environmental Studies B.A. degree program, is looking at the drivers and barriers to local governance of climate change.  In particular, he’s studied climate adaptation policies, ordinances and other initiatives adopted by Connecticut towns.
  • Dr. Manos Anagnostou (Environmental Engineering/ENVE), Dr. Brian Hartman (Math), Dr. Marina Astitha (ENVE) and PhD candidate Dave Wanik (ENVE) are working on weather-based damage prediction models for the electric distribution system in CT and MA. The models relate high resolution weather forecasts, distribution infrastructure and GIS data to historic damage observations, and will soon include tree trimming data as a model input.
  • Related research into mitigating tree failure by Drs. Mark Rudnicki, John Volin (Natural Resources & the Environment) and Thomas Worthley (Extension) will further enhance reliability of the grid through management of trees and forest edges near power lines.  Part of their “Stormwise” initiative was recently featured in this Hartford Courant article and this report on WNPR. The total Stormwise initiative is developing a systems approach which integrates the biophysical, economic and social dimensions needed for successfully increasing the resilience of trees, forests and the utility infrastructure to expected future storms. Follow them @StormwiseUCONN

Also, led by Dr. Jim Edson (Marine Sciences), nearly two dozen faculty members in UConn’s inter-disciplinary Atmospheric Sciences Group, along with affiliated graduate Research Assistants, met last month to discuss their climate change-related research.  Many are studying the impacts of climate change on everything from terrestrial biota, to coastlines, estuaries and oceans. Much of this research is intended to provide data that will guide the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies, pursuant to the mission of UConn’s new Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation.

You can learn more about this research by attending UConn’s third annual Climate Impact Mitigation & Adaptation (CIMA3) conference, scheduled for March 31st at the Student Union Theater and in the SU’s Room 104, across from Chuck & Auggie’s and the Blue Cow.

By Rich Miller, Director of the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) and Kerrin Kinnear, OEP intern (4th semester, ENVST)

CIMA3/2014

Rapid Responses to Climate Change: The Actions We Need To Take

  • 9:00 – Introductory remarks by Provost Mun Choi
  • 9:15 – Keynote address from Curt Spalding, EPA’s top official in New England
  • 10:00 – A panel of TED talks on the impacts of climate change on environmental systems, featuring a variety of  UConn faculty experts
  • 11:30 – 1:00 – The “CIMA Café” & Plain-Language Poster Session – a free networking lunch – enjoy finger food from Dining Services’ sustainable catering menu as you mingle with other students, faculty and staff during a “plain language” poster session explaining CIMA-related UConn research, centers and programs
  • 12:30 – Closing plenary remarks by Dr. Eban Goodstein, Director of Bard College’s Center of Environmental Policy and Sustainability MBA, best known as lead organizer of Power Shift, Focus the Nation, 350.org and other higher ed-focused climate action initiatives.
  • 1:30 – Conference concludes

Come and see for yourself what makes UConn a leader in Climate Adaptation!  For more information about the event, please contact UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy at (860) 486-5773.

Regional EPA Administrator Curt Spaulding speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton. Seated from left are Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Provost Mun Choi. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Regional EPA Administrator Curt Spaulding speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton. Seated from left are Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Provost Mun Choi. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Eban Goodstein

Eban Goodstein


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Weathering the Storms – UConn Leads in Climate Adaptation (Part 1)

Whether or not you believe the overwhelming scientific evidence  about climate change and anthropogenic causation, you will probably agree that it makes sense to prepare for the worst of New England’s sometimes harsh weather.  And regardless of whether you interpret the occurrence in Connecticut, over the past three years, of two 100-year storms, one 50-year storm, and a record-setting blizzard as a sign that the effects of global warming are upon us, or as random coincidence, you probably have done things recently to prepare for storms that you might not have done four years ago.

Raise your hand if, faced with the more likely prospects of downed trees and power lines, you’ve done things like bought an emergency generator or chain saw for your home.  Or if, with the forecast of more stormy weather and the risk of flooding or an extended power outage ahead, you’ve topped off the gas in your hybrid car or stocked up at the grocery store.  If so, what you’re doing is a scaled-down form of adaptation, building personal and family resilience against the effects of what may be our “new normal” weather patterns.

In planning for the more frequent and severe storms predicted by climate scientists, UConn was ahead of the curve two years ago when President Herbst reaffirmed the University’s commitment to a carbon-neutral campus and approved the addition of an Adaptation Section to our Climate Action Plan (CAP).  Since that late-March day in 2012, and in collaboration with the State of Connecticut, UConn’s progress on adaptation initiatives in particular has been remarkable.

Sure, our CAP, like hundreds of others at college campuses across the country, contains a multitude of mitigation measures.  By implementing many of them, UConn has successfully reduced its carbon footprint in existing buildings by more than 10% since 2010.  But UConn’s 2012 Adaptation amendment, unique among colleges and universities at the time, offers to others our expertise and resources for adaptive response.  Inherent in these recommended measures is the assumption that the world’s collective actions to reduce carbon emissions are too little, and possibly too late, to prevent damaging, or even catastrophic, consequences.

As Connecticut’s land and sea grant, public research university, UConn can and should play this pivotal role, especially in helping communities throughout the state and region protect property and natural resources, harden infrastructure, and ensure public health and safety. This two-part blog will review some of the activities that have made UConn a true leader in climate resiliency.

New Climate Adaptation Center

An event in late-January marked an important milestone when local, state, federal and University officials, along with environmental advocates, gathered to announce the exciting news that UConn’s coastal Avery Point campus will be home to the new Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation (ICRCA).  The dedication of the new Institute was an event that would make anyone associated with UConn proud to call themselves an EcoHusky.  It featured an impressive line-up of leaders and lawmakers taking turns at the podium, from Governor Malloy, to President Herbst, U.S. Senator Blumenthal, Congressman Courtney, EPA Region 1 Administrator Spalding and DEEP Commissioner Esty.  As coastal communities face the more immediate risks of rising seas from global warming, the historic Branford House on our Avery Point Campus was an apropos setting for this ceremony, with Long Island Sound glistening as a backdrop through the windows of the crowded atrium.

UConn President Susan Herbst speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn President Susan Herbst speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The Institute in Groton will unite faculty in the natural sciences, engineering, economics, political science, finance, and law disciplines, as well as expert staff from Connecticut’s DEEP and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in a front to increase both the resiliency and sustainability of the state’s communities, critical transportation and energy infrastructure, and coastline. It will receive an initial $2.5 million in operating funds from a joint EPA Region 1/DEEP settlement of an environmental enforcement action related to a Connecticut company’s wastewater discharges to Long Island Sound.

Through collaborative research, education and outreach, the ICRCA will help Connecticut areas to withstand these developing climate challenges by focusing on:

  • Improving scientific understanding of the changing climate and its local and regional impacts;
  • Encouraging strategies that will reduce the loss of life, property and natural resources, and limit social disruption from future high impact weather events as well as from sea level rise, flooding, erosion and other hazards;
  • Hardening of the electric grid and other shoreline infrastructure such as roads, bridges, train tracks, and wastewater treatment plants;
  • Designing innovative financial options for property owners seeking to make their homes and businesses more resilient;
  • Conducting workshops and developing on-line decision support tools for regional and local officials;
  • Increasing public understanding of climate issues so that residents and community leaders can make scientifically informed and environmentally sound decisions about climate adaptation.

Given this comprehensive list of public services, which track the goals of our CAP’s 2012 Adaptation amendment, there is no doubt the new Institute will be central to fulfilling UConn’s adaptation promises. For CTN’s public TV recording of the dedication ceremony, please click here.

By Rich Miller, Director Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) and Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern (4th semester, ENVST).

(Next: Weathering the Storms, Part 2 takes a closer look at UConn’s major climate adaptation research initiatives, from clean energy microgrids to roadside forestry, with a preview of the March 31st CIMA3 conference.)