This is the simple logic that compelled me to focus on energy and the environment in my education. Growing up in Northern Minnesota, going to college in Duluth and living in Minneapolis for the last few years has lead me to appreciate the diversity and beauty of Minnesota’s natural resources, and I believe it’s irresponsible to squander these resources when we have the tools to protect them. While climate change presents us with a huge challenge, it also offers equally big opportunities to move towards a more sustainable and environmentally sound future.
I came across one such opportunity through a group project with my graduate school, the Humphrey School of Public of Affairs, and two local nonprofits, the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and Fresh Energy.
Our group of graduate students was diverse: one engineer, one energy policy expert, and three urban and regional planners with different backgrounds. Our task was to combine our expertise in a project that focused on commercial and industrial solar energy in Minneapolis. Beyond that, the specifics of the project were up to us to decide.
This ambiguity was initially frustrating. The diversity of the group seemed to hinder the decision-making process and stall any progress. We began consulting with local solar experts in an attempt to identify any problems we could help address. Eventually, after countless false leads and failed attempts, we had a revelation during a conversation with a solar planning consultant. We were discussing our project over coffee, and he remarked that it might help our project if we could determine the solar energy potential present on the rooftops of Minneapolis’s large buildings , but that no such resource currently existed. That’s when we knew we had our project – a report assessing how much solar electricity could be produced on commercial and industrial rooftops in Minneapolis. Using the talents of everyone on our team, we also included a financial analysis of current and proposed policies and recommendations for increasing solar electricity installations in the future. The completed project was well received by our clients, and the methodology used in our calculations was eventually used by the City of Minneapolis to assess all of the City’s rooftops.
While intimidating at the outset, the scope and flexibility of this project allowed everyone in the group to contribute and create a useful final product. We managed to take a daunting, complicated topic and use our unique abilities to come up with a useful product. This kind of collaboration is crucial to addressing the complications of climate change. The more diverse the collaboration, the more creative and thorough the solution will likely be.
David Evans is a masters student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.