New U.S.-Canada Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid

The West’s electrical grid is a 136,000-mile patchwork of transmission lines connecting two Canadian provinces, 11 Western states and pieces of three others, serving 80 million people.

While it drives a vital and growing piece of the U.S. economy, this fragile network remains vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather and wildfire risks, according to Masood Parvania, an associate professor of electrical and computing engineering at the University of Utah’s John and Marcia Price College of Engineering.

“These extreme weather events are not the way they used to be in the past. They are more frequent, so we get more of them, and they are more intense” said Parvania, who will co-lead the newly established U.S.-Canada Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid. “Heatwaves have become a normal part of our lives. They last longer and we record higher temperature every year.”

This new interdisciplinary center is aimed at fortifying the region’s power infrastructure against the floods, high winds, drought, even cold snaps that are also taking a heavier toll on the West’s energy systems. This vulnerability poses significant challenges to maintaining essential services, from health care to transportation and communication.


GCSC affiliated faculty who are co-principal investigators for this interdisciplinary effort include Parvania, William Anderegg, School of Biological Sciences and director of the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy, and Divya Chandrasekhar, associate professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning.

The quote above is an excerpt. Read the full story in At the U.

The U reaches 71% renewable energy

By University of Utah Communications
Originally published in @theU

University of Utah Facilities Management has taken another important step forward as a leader in energy and sustainability by signing a 25-year solar energy contract with the Castle Solar Project near Huntington, Utah. The contract will deliver 20 MW of solar energy to campus over its lifespan, powering the university toward its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.

A geothermal energy contract signed in 2018 made the U the first public college in the state to receive more than half of its electricity through renewable sources. The new solar contract will bring the university to 71% of all electrical energy coming from renewable sources.

Upon delivery, this new contract would rank total renewables of the University of Utah at number five among all colleges and universities (behind University of California, Arizona State University, Columbia University, and University at Buffalo SUNY) as reported by the EPA’s Green Power Partnership. The U’s current geothermal contract is currently ranked as the number one largest long-term contract of any college or university under the Green Power Partnership.

This commitment to clean energy and sustainable investments persists even amidst current budget concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Cost projections show this significant move toward renewable energy will come without increased costs. This will allow the U to be responsible stewards of resources without creating an unnecessary burden. Leadership teams in Facilities Management spent years working to balance those considerations.

Even the most perfect buildings and transportation systems, operated flawlessly, still need energy to run,” said Chris Benson, associate director of Sustainability and Energy in Facilities Management at the U. “We simply can’t be carbon neutral without sourcing our energy from clean and renewable sources. Off-site production is a great way to build and leverage economies of scale. With a combination of geothermal (our baseload) and solar (for peaking), loads are well-matched and costs remain well-managed.”

To operate nearly 300 buildings that support healthcare, research, education and housing, the university requires about 1% of all electricity and natural gas in the state of Utah. With long-term commitments to increase use of new, renewable energy, the U is significantly reducing the environmental impact of the electrical grid. This makes a measurable reduction to local emissions and improves air quality.

“We want to demonstrate what is possible by leading with sustainable choices in our operations,” said Kerry Case, chief sustainability officer at the University of Utah. “We recently launched an effort to identify additional strategies that will reduce the U’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase our community’s resilience to climate change. While we complete this important planning work, we must also take actions like this solar contract that have measurable impact.”

The solar energy contract has additional ties to the local environment and economy. It will utilize School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) land in Utah, which has been set aside to support public schools and institutions. The use of SITLA land will return some funds to the state of Utah through the lease agreement.

A new precedence has been set through the use of Rocky Mountain Power’s Schedule 32 rate tariff for the power purchase agreements between the U, Rocky Mountain Power, and each renewable energy supplier. This innovative approach allows large energy customers in Utah to choose their energy source; with the U leading the way, other large energy users in the community are now preparing to utilize this same structure.

“Rocky Mountain Power is proud to help the University of Utah meet its renewable energy goals with a project that will create jobs and tax revenue for rural Utah,” said Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power. “This project is a great example of innovative partnership with our customers to deliver a great result for both the university and communities supporting the renewable energy transition.”

The solar contract was originally awarded to Enyo Renewable Energy (ERE), a Utah-based wind and solar development company. ERE sold the project to D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI), a leading national renewable energy developer-owner-operator. The solar energy project will be built by DESRI in Emery County and is expected to start delivering power mid-2022.

“Our team is pleased to partner with the University of Utah as it becomes a leader among universities across the country in providing cost-effective renewable power to its campuses,” said Hy Martin, chief development officer of DESRI. “With this solar power project, the university is driving the clean energy economy in Utah forward through investment in local communities.”

“MAP and Enyo formed Enyo Renewable Energy to create renewable energy projects that will lead the transformation of the Utah energy landscape by providing consumers with the local renewable energy sources they increasingly demand while providing substantial economic benefits to communities throughout the region,” said Christine Mikell, founder and CEO of Enyo. “We are delighted to have worked closely with Emery County, the state of Utah and regional stakeholders to ensure that the Castle Solar Project would be a success for all involved.”

This innovative contract was made possible with the legal expertise and hard work of the University of Utah General Counsel, the law firm of Gary, Dodge, Russell & Stephens, P.C. and Rocky Mountain Power’s renewable energy team.

Photo: DESRI’s Hunter Solar site in Emery County, Utah. By Jacqueline Flores/Swinerton Renewable Energy

Wind Energy in Urban Environments – Meredith Metzger

GCSC faculty affiliate Meredith Metzger, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, leads a team that is investigating the optimal design for vertical axis wind turbines. VAWTs are ideally suited to urban and suburban environments. Metzger’s team found that one design configurations at a test site produced electricity at a cost 10 percent lower than the average national electricity unit price.  Read more here.

Roseanne Warren: Mechanical Engineering and Better Energy Storage

‘…there are so many questions to explore and vast possibilities for new ideas. At the same time, research in this field can have immediate societal impact.’

You have had a pretty straight line through your educational career, with three degrees in mechanical engineering. Why did you choose mechanical engineering for your studies?

A newer member of the UU and GCSC community, Warren’s educational history includes Stanford (B.S. 2008, M.S. 2009) and UC Berkeley (PhD 2015), all in mechanical engineering.

Mechanical engineers work on solving some of the world’s most pressing problems in energy, environment, transportation, and human health. Becoming a mechanical engineer appealed to me because of opportunities to address these problems head-on.

It’s interesting to think about the specific kinds of sustainability and global change problems that mechanical engineers work on. Where does your research specifically focus?

Our research focus in the Advanced Energy Innovations Lab (AEIL) is designing and developing new materials and devices for electrochemical energy storage technologies. Energy storage is paramount to achieving a sustainable energy future, including integration of intermittent renewable energy sources and supporting rapidly growing markets in electric vehicles and consumer electronics. Our goal is to improve the energy storage capabilities of electrochemical energy storage technologies (including batteries and supercapacitors), while also reducing their overall life-cycle environmental impacts.

The mission of your lab, the AEIL, is to “pioneer new technologies that will improve the energy future of society”. What kinds of new materials and designs are you working on right now?

Our current focus is studying new materials for supercapacitor energy storage. In one project, we’re developing new conducting polymer-based supercapacitor electrodes that have good energy storage properties, but are also biodegradable and biocompatible. We’re also working on understanding fundamental charge storage mechanisms in energy storage materials by designing supercapacitor electrodes that can be used for in-situ NMR/MRI studies, and by developing advanced simulation capabilities. 

Warren with student

Dr. Warren was drawn to the University of Utah because of the wonderful environment, great colleagues, excellent Nanofab facilities, and interdisciplinary research focus on sustainability. Photo by Jonathan Duncan.

How would you describe a supercapacitor to the layperson who wants to better understand what your lab does?

An electrochemical capacitor, or “supercapacitor”, is an energy storage device that uses surface reactions to store electrochemical energy, as opposed to bulk chemical reactions in a battery. This surface-charging mechanism gives supercapacitors high power density and high cycle lifetimes compared to batteries (supercapacitors can charge and discharge in seconds, and sustain over a million recharge cycles). As a result, supercapacitors have many promising applications in consumer electronics, renewable energy storage, electric vehicles, and energy recovery.

The AEIL website mentions a goal to reduce the life-cycle environmental impacts of supercapacitors. What are some of those impacts?

As with any device or material, it’s important to consider potential environmental impacts over the entire lifecycle of energy storage devices. This includes energy and materials associated with manufacturing, and options for disposal at end-of-life. Many electrochemical energy storage devices require high temperatures and harsh chemicals for synthesis. This is an area that can be improved. Another important consideration is choosing materials that have good end-of-life options. In our research on biodegradable energy storage materials, we’re studying supercapacitor electrode materials that can dissolve in mild aqueous conditions after use.

The work you do has so many different kinds of applications and potential. What drew you to this vein of research?

I love posing questions, designing experiments to test these questions, and being surprised by the answers! In the field of electrochemical energy storage, there are so many questions to explore and vast possibilities for new ideas. At the same time, research in this field can have immediate societal impact.

Photo by Jonathan Duncan

Has participating with the GCSC been helpful for your work? If so, how?

As a faculty affiliate of the GCSC, I’ve been inspired by new ideas at faculty think-tank events and the GCSC fall retreat. Being part of the GCSC also provides great opportunities for my students to present their work at the annual GCSC Research Symposium. In addition, my student Virginia Diaz received a GCSC travel grant to present her research on biodegradable energy storage materials at The Electrochemical Society meeting in New Orleans this spring.

What about the center inspired you to become a faculty affiliate?

Getting to meet faculty and students from other departments and fields working on sustainability is really inspiring. The GCSC is a wonderful community for building interdisciplinary connections, and broadening one’s perspective on energy, the environment, and sustainability.