The Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society (IIES) and the Dartmouth Sustainability Office both have a vision to offer Dartmouth students a foundational pathway to learning about energy systems. After speaking with many individuals across Dartmouth’s campus, it became apparent that the complexities of energy systems and the role that we play as energy consumers are subjects that are not well understood. Rosi Kerr, Director of Sustainability, believes that it is part of the Sustainability Office’s responsibility to work towards building a collaborative learning environment where people at Dartmouth can come together and learn about the energy that powers our lives in a very engaging fashion. This vision is perhaps best exemplified through the Energy Immersion trips that have taken place over the past two interim periods.
This past June, the Sustainability Office and the Institute for Energy and Society co-sponsored the second interim Energy Immersion trip to New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec. Five students and two staff members hit the road to visit over 20 different businesses, policy makers, and organizations engaged with energy systems in a variety of different ways and to learn the many ways energy, and specifically electricity, is produced, stored, and consumed. Each visit provided new perspectives, raised questions, and revealed opportunities and challenges that helped paint a more complete picture of the complex energy systems that surround Hanover.
A central mission became apparent to Tara Greaney ‘20 as the trip began to unfold: To analyze and think critically about the current forms of renewable and sustainable energy production in New England.
“When we were talking to people about renewable energy, we learned that ‘renewable energy’ is not necessarily a set-in-stone term, which really surprised me. For example, not only did the hydroelectric dam that we visited in Canada displace many indigenous people, but it also produced carbon emissions,” noted Greaney after reflecting upon her favorite part of the trip. “Renewables are possible, but it depends on how you define ‘renewables.’”
The group also learned about possible energy sources for Dartmouth’s campus. During a visit to Long View Forestry, the students discussed the potential for Dartmouth to use wood chips for thermal energy, and at a meeting with Sun Common Solar and Green Mountain Power, they learned about residential and commercial scale solar panel installation. The push to move off of number six fuel oil remains an important challenge for the College, and Greaney admits that it was extremely informative to hear from many stakeholders during the ten-day immersion experience. “We were able to ask the nuanced questions to the people who are making the decisions – we learned about what they see as the future of energy and electricity.”
Members of the New England Energy Immersion meet with Senior VP and COO of Green Mountain Power, Brian Otley and
Director of Generation and Renewable Innovation, Josh Castonguay
The trip focused not only on methods of energy production, but also on energy community buy-in to green energy infrastructure. Students observed that most of the people they met were in support of renewables, but often with a “Not In My Back Yard” mentality. Perhaps most important, the group learned that in Vermont and New Hampshire, energy efficiency and decarbonization of our thermal and electric energy systems are ongoing challenges that will require the efforts of energy companies as well as support by community members. Even though students on the Energy Immersion trips found that there’s still much work to be done, they remain optimistic. “You always hear of renewables as wind and solar, but there are so many other options out there that either haven’t been thought of, or aren’t a major component of energy production yet,” Greaney pointed out, alluding to the biofuels and ocean wave power that the group learned about in Montréal, Québec.
Greaney found that the hands-on experiences in the field and tours of facilities provided an excellent avenue to learning about energy systems, but she learned just as much from her peers on the trip, who came from parts of the country that relied on energy sources ranging from coal to wind power.
When asked if this was something that she would do again, she smiles, “Oh yes. I plan to go on the winter trip.”
The next Energy Immersion trip will take place at the end of this November. Be on the lookout for an application to be sent out this fall, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.