PKG Social Impact Internships: Rovi Porter (’22)

Exploring Renewable Electricities and Carbon Cost

Hi! I’m Rovi, a current junior (Class of 2022) at MIT studying environmental engineering with a minor in economics. I am interning at Northwest River Partners over MIT’s Independent Activity Period (IAP). Here at Northwest River Partners the mission is to advocate for clean energy in the Northwest with hydroelectricity as the cornerstone. Through this internship I have been able to do research into various types of renewable electrities and their carbon cost. This was an eye opener in terms of being able to see how much goes into extracting, manufacturing, delivering, and decommissioning different types of renewable energy sources.

Previously, I had only considered the output of energy and reliability of the different resources. This research allowed me to review the energy cost versus the energy produced, which added another layer or complexity in determining which are most cost competitive and useful in different scenarios. This research directly relates to climate change as the large push to renewable energy and resources is due to the release of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, hydrofluorocarbons, etc.) which trap more heat and has caused a wide range of issues from rising sea levels to animals extinctions.

The energy sector in the US contributed 190 billion short tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 alone. This was largely from the burning of natural gas and coal, which is the main source of the carbon emissions in the energy sector. Thus being able to identify the carbon dioxide lifecycle in the other energy resources, will allow people to understand that while it may not yet be zero carbon emissions when manufacturing, it is a huge improvement from burning coal and natural gas. It is also helpful to realize which renewable energy source is the most efficient and carbon neutral. 

Another project that I worked on at Northwest River Partners was assessing the impact that dams have on rivers. This is a huge topic, especially in the Northwest, due to the effect of river temperatures on salmon. Salmon are very important to the people from the Northwest, whether it is the Native Americans or simply Washington/Oregon residents. Given its importance, a lot of research goes into allowing salmon to successfully migrate upstream for their spawning. Concerns about fish passage around dams, temperature increase, and gas bubble disease are a few concerns around dams and hydroelectric dams.

Large strides have been made allowing safe fish passages around dams, as well as understanding that keeping the total dissolved gas from spillways to a minimum decreases any gas bubble trama in fish. As for temperature increases due to dams is still somewhat unclear. From what I have studied, it is quite difficult to pin point what heat is added by the dam versus other natural factors. Despite this potentially harmful effects hydroelectric dams provide the largest amount of renewable energy in the region. Thus it is imperative to fully understand the impact on the salmon to make future decisions on keeping some of the hydroelectric dams. 

This internship I was introduced to a sector that is passionate about making the right environmental decisions while still keeping in mind the people that might be affected by these changes. Northwest River Partners is a group that is not afraid to read every last word on a scientific paper or EPA report. They will review regulations and add their own statements questioning assumptions and models. I did not even know that people responded to EPA released studies and projections. I had always just taken what the EPA had wrote to be true and learning that we have people double checking these important environmental decisions has given me hope in our future. That we are not just blindly following what has been done before or what one researcher says but as a community we are putting our minds together to make a better future.

Want to learn more about the PKG Social Impact Internships Program? Visit our webpage to learn about ELO opportunities for Spring 2021, and stay tuned for information for summer 2021 postings!

Tags: Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships IAP 2021

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