Volume 3, Issue 2
Environment @Harvard H a r v a rd U n i ve r s i t y C e n t e r f o r t h e E nv i r o n m e n t www.environment.harvard.edu
Rising Seas, Imperiled Cities
Coastal regions must prepare, and Boston is a case study
GRAPHIC COURTESY MICHAEL WILSON
By Corydon Ireland
round the world, oceans are warming and expanding. Vast ice sheets are crumbling and melting into the sea. The result is global sea-level rise, which will be one of the most dramatic and destructive consequences of climate change. Of particular concern to human civilization is the fate of the world’s coastal cities. Conservative estimates of sea level rise by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project increases of more than half a foot to two feet by the year 2100. More up-to-date analyses by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, which account for the effects of melting ice sheets around the globe, suggest that sea level will rise three feet to as much as five feet or more by 2100
(see "The Science of Rising Seas," page 4). Ninety years from now, in other words, vast, densely populated coastal areas around the world will be under water, including major cities—unless they prepare. CITIES AT RISK Getting ready for sea-level rise is every city’s problem. Without action, in fact, rising seas will sooner or later alter most of civilization’s urban footprint. Coastal floodplains worldwide are crowded with cities often built no more than 3 feet above sea level. More than 2 billion people—an estimated 37 percent of the world’s population—live within 60 miles of the coast and would be affected, directly or indirectly, by incursions of the sea.
A storm surge model of Boston depicts land use impact of a typical high tide (left) and a worstcase scenario storm surge of 5.5 meters (right). Each dot accounts for 100,000 square feet of either residential (yellow), commercial (red), or industrial (purple) built structure.
In sheer economic terms, the stakes of sea-level rise in urban areas are particularly high. An added 0.5 meters (20 inches) of ocean water by the year 2050 would put $28 trillion in assets at risk in the world’s 136 port megacities, according to a 2009 report of scientists and insurance experts assembled by World Wide Fund/Allianz, a global investment and insurance company. On the northeastern coast of the United States, the expected maximum rise in sea
Harvard University Center for the Environment 1
Letter from the Director A few weeks ago, I co-organized a workshop focused on the future of agriculture. We were there to discuss a grand question for the agriculture establishment: whether we can sustain the Green Revolution, providing food for a larger (and wealthier) world population in the face of a series of obstacles such as climate change. It was an extraordinary dialogue between agronomists, plant biologists, climatologists, hydrologists, and nutrition scientists. Over the course of the day, two presentations stood out—both from Harvard colleagues. Peter Huybers, a professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences, spoke on how U.S. farmers are impacted by and adapting to warmer summer temperatures. Previous work has shown that agricultural yield appears to drop precipitously when temperatures rise above 85 degrees F., especially during certain times of the growing season. And yet U.S. farmers have been able to sustain high yields in many cases through a variety of strategies including earlier planting times. This may not allow them to handle heat waves like this past summer in Texas (when Austin experienced 83 days above 100 degrees), but Peter showed that predicting the impacts of climate change is not so straightforward; his work gives us some hope for the coming decades. The second memorable talk was from Walter Willett, professor in the Harvard School of Public Health and chair of the Department of Nutrition. Walter spoke of the worldwide epidemic of obesity and Type-2 diabetes and its relationship to diets rich in starch and simple sugars. A revelation was that increases in grain yields in wheat, rice and corn that epitomize the triumph of the Green Revolution may also have led to foods with more starch and less protein, contributing to the incidence of diabetes around the world. Getting the agricultural com2
Volume 3, Issue 2
munity to pay attention to concerns about climate change and nutrition may take a while; representatives from the large seed companies who spoke remain confident that genetic engineering can handle anything climate change might send our way, and their focus seems to be entirely on increasing the amount of grain produced, overlooking Walter’s plea to consider the nutritional value and not just the raw amount of harvest. But even if they didn’t change their public statements right away, one had a sense that they realized these issues were not going away. It seems more and more clear that the path forward on agriculture, just like on energy, must diverge from the path we have followed thus far. I was reminded of the privilege and responsibility we have at Harvard,
vation; it has given man a breathing space. If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral only.” More than four decades later, the U.N. declared that world population has now surpassed 7 billion, enabled by Borlaug’s efforts. Technology—mostly in the form of nitrogen fertilizer and higher-yielding crops—has borrowed time for
"I was reminded of the privilege and responsibility we have at Harvard, to be at the center of multiple, intersecting dialogues between people who are charting new paths, crossing the bridges between academia, industry and goverment that allow our ideas to perhaps someday change the world." to be at the center of multiple, intersecting dialogues between people like Walter and Peter who are charting new paths, crossing the bridges between academia, industry, and government that allow our ideas to perhaps someday change the world. In reflecting on that workshop, I am struck by the words of Norman Borlaug, a crop scientist who is often called the “father of the Green Revolution,” in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Borlaug warned, “the green revolution has won a temporary success in man's war against hunger and depri-
us. But the great challenge remains. We don’t know how the world will respond to 7 billion people, facing climate change, chronic health issues like diabetes, and more. At this milestone of human civilization, our quest for solutions remains most urgent. Sincerely, Dan Schrag Director, HUCE
GRAPHIC COURTESY MICHAEL WILSON / ADAPTED FROM MAPPING BOSTON
Getting ready for sealevel rise is every city's problem. Without action, rising seas will alter civilizations's urban footprint. More than 2 billion people would be affected.
Beginning around 1850, residential and industrial land was created in the city of Boston by filling in historic marshes and mudflats. This resulted in varying land elevations, and consequently put some areas at risk for greater impact from future storm surges.
level of 26 inches by 2050 would threaten assets worth about $7.4 trillion in five cities alone—Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Providence. In Boston, losses could reach $460 billion, or the equivalent of 20 Big Digs. To understand what is at risk, one cannot just look at the current coastline; it’s the highest tide during a storm surge that determines the impact. In Boston, storm surges can temporarily raise sea levels as much as 8 feet, depending on tides, wave action, and the duration and speed of winds. History testifies to the city’s vulnerability: in 1978, Boston’s then brand new Charles River dam was barely in place when a hurricane struck, sending a storm surge across the harbor that nearly topped protections. DOING SOMETHING DUTCH Nations and municipalities worldwide have nevertheless been slow to grapple with the implications of sea level rise. The Netherlands, of course, is a conspicuous exception. For centuries, it has struggled with and addressed the fact that much of its territory is below sea level. Between 1950 and 1997, the low-lying nation constructed vast delta works: 250 miles of dams and other barriers. The city of Venice, Italy, is acting fast, too, because rising seas from the Adriatic
are increasingly pushing past the 15thcentury city’s three barrier islands. Its system of floating barriers, which will be completed next year after a quarter century of work, is designed to stop storm surges of up to 10 feet from overwhelming the lagoon where Venice is situated. Two decades ago, London also stepped up to address the problem. Its Thames Barrier, a 570-yard-wide floating span of rotating gates, permits navigation on the river while protecting the city against storm surges and destructive high tides. But the Dutch remain the world’s gold standard for response to sea-level rise, and are even ready to export their expertise as the world slowly awakens to the problem. Once a nation of dikes and berms, the Netherlands now employs integrated, flexible strategies to keep water at bay. In 2007, a new Delta Committee— the second in five decades—recommended raising the flood protection levels of coastal dikes by a factor of 10. That strengthens
T H I S
I S S U E
Rising Seas, Rising Worries Harvard researchers investigate Boston's watery future. 2
Letter from the Director
10 Maine's Fox Islands Have Become a Clean Energy Lab for “Island Earth” Harvard professor George Baker used wind power to transform the energy landscape of Vinalhaven Island.
an ethos of engineering-first solutions that deepened in the 1960s following a 1953 storm surge breach that killed approximately 1,800 people and flooded the country’s southwest coast. The same committee advocates two new strategies that rely on sustainability principles instead of engineering. “Building with nature” uses beach nourishment as well as restored natural estuaries and tides to prevent flooding. More radically, a “room for the river” proposal calls for rewriting land use strategies, in part by saving more land along the Rhine and Meuse rivers from development. Implementing these changes will require complex new administrative, legal, and financial frameworks. Such initiatives will also require big money—as much as 3.1 billion Euros ($4.5 billion) every year until 2050. That’s about 0.5 percent of the country’s current gross domestic product. On the other hand, the cost of doing nothing is high, too. A single dike failure could cost the Netherlands up to 50 billion Euros, according to a 2008 study— trillions of Euros if there were multiple failures. Likewise, in New York City, according to the 2009 Allianz report, a single catastrophic hurricane would cost around $1 trillion today and more than 22 An Interview with Cherry Murray The Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences discusses the role of engineering in energy and the environment. 22 HUCE Seed Grants Support LargeScale Faculty Research Innovative and collaborative projects address the challenges of energy and environment. 22 Meet the incoming HUCE Fellows The Center welcomes its newest cohort of Environmental Fellows.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
$5 trillion by mid-century, when sea-level rise will intensify a big storm’s impact. Yet most of the world’s cities bordering these rising seas are acting slowly, if at all. TIMELY ACTION Most city-scale responses have involved “a lot of talk, a lot of thinking, a lot of postponing,” says Jerold S. Kayden, Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design at the Graduate School of Design (GSD). One problem is an uncertainty about the strength and timing of the impacts, he says. “It’s a very tricky thing. It’s not hap-
pening tomorrow, it’s not happening next year, and it’s not happening in two years.” Kayden is project director and principal investigator of the Harvard-Netherlands Project on Climate Change, Water, Land Development and Adaption—a project whose partners include Dutch officials. His involvement has already led to two GSD studio workshops; a third is currently being planned. Kayden notes that the calculus over how many inches or feet, and by when, must be coupled with the one certainty of politics: it moves slowly. “When you begin to
The Science of Rising Seas
Volume 3, Issue 2
will keep melting for many millennia into the future. If the Greenland ice sheet melts—all 1.7 million square miles of it—global average sea level would rise by 24 feet. And that is tiny compared to the ice stored on
PROBLEM AS OPPORTUNITY The particular vulnerabilities and possible solutions to the impact of sea level rise on the Boston metropolitan area are the subject of “Shifting Ground,” a Graduate School of Design master’s thesis by Michael Wilson ’07, MLA, MUP ’11. Wilson is the unusual product of interdisciplinary training in science, engineering, policy and design—all at Harvard. As an undergraduate, he concentrated in Environmental Science and Public Policy. After taking a seminar with Professors Daniel Schrag and James McCarthy as a junior, Wilson went on to write his prizewinning senior thesis about the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada. “It was the clearest and broadest analysis of the science, economics, and politics of the oil sands that I have ever seen,” says Schrag, who served as Wilson’s undergraduate thesis advisor. After graduating from the College, Wilson began studying landscape architecture at the Graduate School of Design. When the time came to choose a masters thesis topic, Wilson approached Schrag, who suggested that he explore how sea level rise will affect Boston and what might be done about it. Wilson jumped at the opportunity, engaging in addition to Kayden, professor of landscape architecture Charles Waldheim, chair of the department of landscape architecture at the GSD, as his principal thesis advisor. PHOTO COURTESY FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
Why a rise in sea levels? Pure physics, at least in part. The more water warms, the more it expands. If you heat 50 gallons of room-temperature water to 100 degrees, for instance, you get the volume equivalent of 51 gallons. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent 2007 report attributes 70 percent of the world’s impending sea-level rise to thermal expansion. Their conservative estimate: 7 to 23 inches by the year 2100. More recent reports, including one this spring by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), say an even bigger factor in sea level rise is the accelerated melting of the world’s vast ice sheets and polar caps. The physics is even simpler. Melting land-based ice spills into oceans as fresh water, swelling them further. The AMAP report therefore argues that sea-level rise will be much more dramatic than the IPCC estimates: 35 to 63 inches by 2100. The higher end of that estimate is more than 5 feet—about as high as most authorities are willing to go. But all this discussion of how much sea level will rise by 2100 risks missing the point that 2100 is just the beginning. The polar ice sheets
align political terms of office, expenditures of money, and [questions such as] who wins, who loses, who pays,” he says, “that constellation leads to a lot of thinking, but it doesn’t lead to action.”
Antarctica. If the Antarctic ice cap ever disappeared—which might take a very long time even in a warmer world—sea-level would rise more than 200 feet. The big mystery is how quickly the ice will melt. But at least for the next few centuries, and likely much longer, rising seas appears to be a fundamental part of our future.
– Corydon Ireland
THE RANGE OF RESPONSE In the past, engineering provided the preferred menu of solutions to the prospect of encroaching seas: dams, dikes, and seawalls. But as Wilson’s thesis documents, today’s answers will also involve soft engineering solutions such as wetland restoration. They may even include measured human retreat from coastlines, allowing rising seas to have their way. “We would want to have a portfolio of
Michael Wilson ’07, MLA, MUP ’11, pictured near the Charles River Dam, plotted Boston's existing coastal protection and possible sea-level rise scenarios in his recent Graduate School of Design thesis.
responses,” says Waldheim, who notes that the Dutch are rediscovering the compatibility of hard and soft solutions. Americans should embrace that combination, too, he says. “Green infrastructure alone [will] not be sufficient. We need a mix.” Green systems can nevertheless build resilience into the framework of responses to sea-level rise. “Fifty-one weeks out of the year or nine years out of the decade, they can look like recreational space.” Sea-level rise is commonly seen as a problem solely for engineers, but at the same time, notes Waldheim, cities have from the beginning been the sum of “a range of professional inputs,” from engineering and law to design and the arts. That’s opportune because urban environments are complex places layered with costs that can be measured in multiple ways: economic, cultural, historical, and social. “How to respond,” to sea level rise, says Waldheim, “is an open question.” Wilson suggests a blend of hard and soft engineering solutions. A key problem is aging protections for the Charles River basin. Boston is safeguarded to 3.5 meters (about 11 feet) by the New Charles River Dam, completed in 1978. But if intruding water rises beyond 4 meters or so, “Boston is kind of in tough shape,” says Wilson. “It starts to look like the Harbor
Islands, except there is a city there.” In his thesis, Wilson outlines many flood scenarios. One posits a sea-level rise of 2 meters (6.6 feet) in combination with a 100-year storm that produces a surge 5.5 meters (18 feet) above mean sea level. The result would temporarily reduce Boston to a series of drumlins. Even a modest rise in sea level—the 12 inches expected by 2046 or sooner, for instance—combined with a powerful storm, a high tide, and the right winds, would make most of Boston briefly part of the Atlantic Ocean. Flooding from storm surges would be accelerated by modern conduits like sewers, subway tunnels, and
turnpikes, and by square miles of impervious surfaces that don’t soak up water but instead channel it into the heart of the city’s infrastructure. So even with a modest projection in sealevel rise, waves from an Atlantic storm could send ocean water cascading into the subway stops at South Station or Aquarium, for example. Landmarks such as Faneuil Hall would be partially submerged. Wilson has modeled the “potential inundation areas and impacts,” of flooding across a range from 1.5 meters (5 feet) to 5.5 meters (18 feet) above mean sea level. The results likely “over-represent” flooded areas, he says, but it’s a start. “You need a holistic, messy picture.” The real point is to begin demonstrating the “pressure on the system” exerted by storm surges in a world of higher sea levels, and to test how existing protections work—or fail. The engineering ethos that shaped Boston—much of which is built on landfill— survives in what has become an iconic proposal for protecting the city from the sea: local architect Antonio Di Mambro’s 1988 proposal for a Boston Harbor Barrier that would stretch from Quincy to Winthrop, and include a tidal surge barrier, new transit pathways, and commercial and residential development.
Jerold S. Kayden, Williams professor of urban planning and design at the GSD, is also project director and principal investigator of the Harvard-Netherlands Project on Climate Change, Water, Land Development and Adaptation. Harvard University Center for the Environment
FA C U LT Y P R O F I L E
ome people decorate their offices with awards; others with artwork. Rick Hornbeck, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard, displays pieces of barbed wire—a reminder of an unlikely start to his career. Tasked with writing an economic history paper while a first-year graduate student at MIT, Hornbeck turned to the Internet and googled “economic history data.” U.S. Agricultural Census data from 1880, he noticed, included the “strangely specific” cost of building fences. The reason became clear: during the 1870s, the capital invested in wooden fences was greater than that invested in railroads, because farmers required fences to establish de facto property rights. Then came the introduction of barbed wire, which, Hornbeck explains, “dramatically lowered the cost of fencing." Hornbeck applied economic methods to tease out the positive effect of barbed wire—and the property rights it secured—on agricultural development in the Great Plains. The resulting paper appeared in the Quarterly Journal of Economics last year. His research continues to investigate how technological innovations affect our relationship with the environment. One project, funded in part by a grant from HUCE, looks at the effects of unsustainable water use on the Great Plains after World War II, when advanced irrigation technology was introduced. Underlying the Plains is the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies about 30 percent of the water used for irrigation nationally. From its discovery in the 1890s until the 1940s, farmers had 6
Volume 3, Issue 2
been able to access only enough water to irrigate a few acres. But the invention of center pivot sprinklers and pumps allowed them to irrigate much larger tracts of land, and gradually to shift to water-intensive crops. Farmers soon began pumping groundwater faster, and by 2002, as the water table dropped, land values fell to less than half their 1974 peak. The project highlights another thread running through Hornbeck’s research: using historical data to examine how people adjust to major environmental changes. “Some aspects of environmental questions,” Hornbeck says, “can only be answered with historical data. Economic theory anticipates that people will adjust to the environment, but how quickly do they adjust, and how much do these adjustments mitigate the environmental impacts?" This question motivated his research on the American Dust Bowl, when farmers were faced with either shifting from crop production to other agricultural activities, or moving out of the region. Hornbeck found many chose to leave, and concluded that economic adjustments to environmental degradation may require people to migrate rather than adapt. The findings could inform our understanding of climate change response. For Hornbeck, economic history provides a way to marry his passion for public policy with an interest in scientific pursuits, using the past as his laboratory. “Economic historians often used economics to understand history. I try to use history to understand economics." — Sarah Beam Aldy
While acknowledging the boldness of Di Mambro’s vision, Wilson proposes a smaller-scale engineering solution to protect the city. His work explicity points out that fort-like protection structures and other brick-and-mortar projects no longer provide all the answers. Kayden agrees: “We’ve moved away from confidence in engineering solutions [alone]. We’ve widened the lens dramatically about what we can conceive is possible.” A re-imagined Boston Harbor would have improved seawalls, yes—but Wilson suggests it would also include “climate parks,” retention areas, and parkways that recapture the nineteenth century vision of an “emerald necklace” around Boston. His solution harks back in part to a Boston landscape of an earlier era, marked by marshes and mudflats. Wilson envisions “renewing” the last half-mile of the Charles River by creating a wetland that extends the saltwater/freshwater interface, along with a terraced berm on the waterfront. And his reconception of Paul Revere Park, a five acre open space located where the Charles River meets the inner harbor, would introduce a tidal mudflat and marsh bisected by pedestrian bridges. Wilson also proposes leveraging highway infrastructure—some of it abandoned, failed, or underutilized—for flood control. A system of urban retention areas for flood waters would use everything from Back Bay alleyways to the partially closed Rutherford Avenue underpass, which would be abandoned as a road and seeded with water-tolerant plants. Such a “retention strategy” could even be regional, says Wilson, by including a network of coastal wetlands along the upland portions of the Charles River. Although Wilson’s work focused primarily on Boston proper, it also touched on sea-level impacts to Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Malden, and Winchester—and from Revere and Winthrop as far south as Quincy. Regionalizing the response to sea-level rise makes sense because storm surge impacts—perhaps counter-intuitively—will have greater impact inland than in Boston Harbor itself, explains Wilson, citing a 2007 model of impacts developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Wilson pairs these soft engineering solutions with a hard and expensive one: a massive swing-out storm surge barrier like the one that protects Europoort and the port of Rotterdam 17 miles inland. (The Europoort barrier cost the Dutch $3 billion two decades ago.) When deployed, two steel triangles as high as skyscrapers would pivot on “the world’s largest ball and socket joints,” explains Wilson, as they swing out into the channel between Castle Island in South Boston and Logan Airport in East Boston. Pontoons would fill with water, the barrier would sink, and then lock into a submerged concrete pad. “It’s a big, big piece of infrastructure,” he says—but would protect Boston to a mean sea level rise of 5.5 meters (18 feet). It would also augment existing safeguards on the Charles and Mystic rivers by adding 2 meters (6.6 feet) of protection. “The
GRAPHIC COURTESY MICHAEL WILSON
Wilson's work explicity points out that fort-like protection structures and other brick-and-mortar projects no longer provide all the answers. His solution harks back to a Boston landscape of an earlier era, marked by marshes and mudflats.
nice thing is, it more or less fits in the existing channel of Boston Harbor,” says Wilson. “If we built it once in Rotterdam, we can build it again in Boston. The engineering challenges are solvable.” Other challenges will follow, he predicts, including objections based on sentiment. For one, “You would be building something the size of the Eiffel Tower next to a historic monument.” Castle Island, continuously occupied longer than any other fortification in British North America, is on the National Register of Historic Places, along with Fort Independence. Complementing this historic landscape are a picnic area, a ballpark, and a popular pond called Pleasure Bay. These
recreational amenities enjoyed by generations of Bostonians would suddenly be dominated by a giant steel barrier. The time to act is now, says Wilson, especially since any solution to sea-level rise will take at least a generation to plan and build. He offers an example: in 1955, Hurricane Diane—the wettest tropical cyclone in the history of the Northeast and the first billion-dollar storm to strike the U.S.—flooded New England. That prompted the construction of the New Charles River Dam…23 years later. The interim between the flood and solution was taken up with planning, analysis, stakeholder hearings, and reports from consultants. “The time to be thinking about what to do in 20 years or in 40, is now.” Where do we want to be, he asks? What is required? What institutions need to be in place? And who will pay? A RISING-SEAS SEMINAR The questions raised by Wilson’s study of sea-level rise in Boston have encouraged new dialogues about law, policy, political action, and regional collaboration. These discussions will bear fruit next spring when Harvard experts in law, climate change, engineering, landscape design, and urban planning convene a graduate Top: Wilson's rendering of a reconceived Paul Revere Park, which, as part of a "building with nature" approach, includes a flood wall, tidal mudflat, and pedestrian bridges. Bottom: Charles Waldheim, professor of landscape architecture at the GSD.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
GRAPHICS COURTESY MICHAEL WILSON / PHOTO COURTESY FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
The crux of Wilson's proposal is the construction of a massive swing-out storm surge barrier (left), much like the one that protects Europoort and the port of Rotterdam (right).
seminar to address the complex problems associated with how cities will adapt to sea-level rise. The course will look at case studies worldwide, drawing on generations of expertise gathered by the Dutch, on the one hand, and from the less hopeful case of Dacca, Bangladesh, where a city of 15 million sits at sea level in a broad and flat river delta, on the other. Because of its lack of protective infrastructure, as well as the risk of sudden mass migrations inland, Dacca is extremely vulnerable. Waldheim calls it “a test case of another category.” The course will focus principally on Boston, as an estuarial city with a threecentury history of design and engineering projects that engage the ever-present sea. “It’s a city that has been well-designed and studied,” says Waldheim. Harvard Law School professor David Barron, one of the course organizers, has for the past five years co-taught a “green cities” seminar with Brandeis Professor of Law Gerald Frug and guest lecturers from 8
Volume 3, Issue 2
the New York City Law Department. The two-semester offering, a fall seminar and a spring practicum, investigates how cities organize themselves to address climate change and how they use sustainability as an economic development strategy. But Barron’s seminar awoke to sea-level rise—“as important a public problem for
"The time to be thinking about what we want to do in 20 or 40 years, is now. Where do we want to be, what does it require, what institutions are needed, who pays?" cities as exists,” he says—only recently, after a lecture by engineer and architect Guy Nordenson, who teaches at Princeton and practices in New York. Last year, Nordenson participated in a project that re-envisioned New York City’s harbor and coastline in the face of climate change. The adaptations he presented, drawn from “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s
Waterfront,” an exhibition and lecture series at the Museum of Modern Art and at MoMA PS1, prompted Harvard law students to ponder the governance challenges and legal implications of sea-level rise along urbanized ocean shores. Rising seas will trigger problems that go well beyond ecology and engineering, especially on intricately organized, heavily developed coastlines that are ill prepared for widespread inundation. Government, public authorities, regulators, and businesses are not used to large–scale cooperation. But somehow, in a matter of years or decades at the most, they will have to collectively address a thicket of legal, social, economic, and even moral issues around the subject of rising sea levels. Issues of ownership and equity in protections will be tricky. “The question of legal authority over the relevant territory is incredibly complicated,” says Barron. One example of that complexity is the fragmented network of seawalls in the Boston region—many of them privately owned—mapped in Wilson’s master’s thesis. “You would have to fill a lot of seawall over a lot of private land,” says Wilson (who now lives in New York, where he works for landscape architecture firm Mi-
Glaciers and ice sheets are going to keep melting. The idea of retreat from coastal cities, as happened after Hurricane Katrina, is an extreme example of what lies ahead, and a vivid inducement to cities to study, converse, imagine—and act soon. chael Van Valkenburgh Associates). The complex technical, scientific, social, legal, and regulatory challenges “multiply from there,” he says, so using “a localized case study will sharpen the practical issues.” The course designers, including Barron, Frug, Kayden, Schrag, and Waldheim, say it might even provide a template for study and action worldwide. In a warmup to the spring course, Kayden plans a workshop at the GSD to investigate what Boston needs to do to get ready for sea-level rise. He describes it as “a day-long thinking-through” that will include experts from two water-related ministries in the Netherlands along with officials from the City of Boston. “Like any city, Boston is confronting a range of
adaptive strategies, from hard engineering to land controls to building design adaption,” Kayden explains. “There is no deeply accepted one-size-fits-all approach, nor is there a broad political consensus yet. It hasn’t ripened to that point. There are conversations, there is thinking in the City, and thinking at Harvard.” Boston is among the few American cities that are in what Kayden calls “the conversation and study stage.” Last November, a daylong forum sponsored by the Boston Harbor Association considered potential impacts. Talk turned to flood-proofed buildings and retention
ponds—and even to a massive sea barrier that would protect the inner harbor. Ellen Douglas of UMass Boston and former Tufts professor Paul Kirshen—now with the Battelle Institute—mapped out future scenarios in which Boston is hit by record storm surges. By mid-century, the city can expect the equivalent of today’s 100-year storm every two to four years; by 2100 the city can expect a “100-year” storm every year. San Francisco and New York have also sponsored similar public forums on the issue. One of the crucial questions cities will have to answer is, “Should I put my money into protection or should I put my money into relocation?” says Schrag. “Retreat has to at least remain on the table,” he points out, “because investment in engineering solutions will help, but only for a period of time. After the first half meter of sea level rise comes the next. Glaciers are going to keep melting, ice sheets are going to keep melting.” The idea of retreat from coastal cities, as happened in New Orleans after Katrina— with all its horror, drama, and expense— is an extreme example of what lies ahead, says Waldheim, and a vivid inducement to cities that they must study, converse, imagine—and act soon. Brandeis Professor of Law Gerald Frug (above) and Harvard Law School professor David Barron (left) are partnering with other Harvard experts to teach the first-ever graduate seminar on the complex, interdiscipliary problems associated with sea-level rise.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Maine’s Fox Islands a Clean Energy Lab for ‘Island Earth’ By Alvin Powell
The Vinalhaven windmills have come online at a time of rapid growth for the wind industry in the United States. That growth received further impetus in January 2011, when President Barack Obama called for a transformation of the country’s energy infrastructure. In 25 years, he told the nation, 80 percent of U.S. electricity would be generated by clean sources. Obama didn’t specify how that would be done, mentioning renewable sources along with nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas, but it seems inevitable that wind power will become a larger part of the nation’s energy mix. Wind can hardly go anywhere but up. Recent statistics show wind power makes up just 1.1 percent of U.S. electricity generating capacity, while 70 percent is provided by coal and natural gas. The numbers also reveal an industry that is growing rapidly. Of the nation’s 40,180 megawatts of wind power installed by the end of 2010, 5,115 megawatts had been installed in 2010 alone and another 5,600 megawatts were under construction in early 2011. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a wind industry trade group, says that the installed
PETER RALSTON / ISLAND INSTITUTE
n an island 15 miles off Maine’s rocky coast, three wind turbines turn, transforming a natural element of the island landscape into clean energy. Islanders long ago harnessed the wind, relying on it to move their boats to and from fishing grounds. Today, the wind not only powers the pleasure craft that ply scenic Penobscot Bay each summer, it lights their houses at night and in winter, makes heat to ward off the season’s chill. The windmills provide power to more than 1,500 residents of the islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven, and in so doing confront many of the issues facing the wind industry nationwide as it grows from a mere curiosity into a significant player in the country’s energy scheme. Among those issues are sustainability, reliability, cost, and community acceptance. The project so enthralled its primary driver, George Baker, that the Harvard Business School professor gave up his tenured position to see it through. Today, the project is used as a teaching tool in one of the School’s famed cases, and is part of a undergraduate seminar taught by Baker on the public policy, economics, and technology of renewable energy.
Volume 3, Issue 2
capacity is just a fraction of the wind power potential. AWEA statistics show that there are 10.4 million megawatts of potential wind resources on land and another 4.2 million megawatts offshore. The roots of Vinalhaven’s wind story stretch back several decades and lie in the roar of diesel generators, on the seabed where a power cable lies, and in the islanders’ pocketbooks. The electricity supply on Vinalhaven and North Haven—together called the Fox Islands—has always been temperamental. Residents have struggled with high energy prices and unreliable supply. For many years, power on the island was supplied by a large diesel generator that ran all day and night. In the 1970s, the diesel generator was supplanted by a cable to the mainland laid on the sea floor. The cable was an improvement, quieter and less smelly, except when snagged fishing gear knocked the power out. “It was not uncommon to go a couple of days without power, a dragger would hit it or something would go wrong,” says Adam Lachman, an island businessman and member of the Island Energy Task Force, a group of island residents interested in energy issues. The cable broke for good in 2005, forcing the local electric company—a cooperative whose members are the islands’ ratepayers—to borrow heavily to install another, now buried in the seafloor. Lachman says that a spike in utility rates after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 really got people’s attention. Island residents had already been paying rates nearly triple those on the mainland, and concerns about the sustainability of island life were widespread. In fact, the decline of year-round island communities off Maine’s Coast—from 300 to 15 during the last 100 years—was a statewide concern and prompted the creation of the Rockland-based Island Institute in 1983, to provide technical assistance on island issues. To some island residents, the post-Katrina spike in energy costs was just another sign that they were being priced off the island where their families had lived for generations, an omen that the expense Picturesque Penobscot Bay is home to three 1.5 megawatt wind turbines, which annually generate about the same power the Vinalhaven island community uses in approximately a year.
"There's no such thing as zero impact. We have to look at alternatives and choose. If we make a rule that we can't do anything that has an impact, we'll just sit quietly and cook over the next 50 years." of running their lobster boats, lighting their stores, restaurants, and inns would be that much higher. For others, it was further evidence that something had to be done to make island living sustainable. “My family has been here since Vinalhaven was named,” says Kris Davidson, a lifelong islander who runs a real estate business there. She says she understands it “when people like me can’t afford to live here because of the cost.” Though the high price of electricity was an important driver for the Fox Islands’ wind project, several of those involved say their concern for the environment also played a role. William Alcorn ’58, who owns the 71 acres on which the turbines are located, has been visiting the islands since the 1960s, spending years as a “summer jerk” before moving there full time. Alcorn says living on an island has given him a perspective about limited resources that mainland dwellers might not have. His house, he says, has solar panels, and he burns wood as a renewable source of heat. “I was a summer jerk, now I’m a winter jerk and I live here year round,” says Alcorn. “I’m a big supporter of renewable energy. We’ve got to get off oil.” So, even as the high pressure hoses were digging a seafloor trench for the new power cable to the mainland, conversations were underway about the possibility of installing wind turbines on Vinalhaven. Islanders understood that the one thing that didn’t have to be shipped there at extra cost is wind. In fact, work toward a wind turbine had already begun. In 2001, the University of Massachusetts conducted a twoyear study of wind speeds on the island, concluding that Vinalhaven’s winds would drive a turbine. In the spring of 2007, North Haven resident Hanna Pingree, a state lawmaker
George Baker, senior lecturer in the Harvard Business School and a primary driver behind the Vinalhaven Island wind power project.
and speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, called a meeting of two electric cooperatives that she knew were thinking about wind power. The Fox Islands Electric Cooperative provided electricity on Vinalhaven and North Haven, while the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative provided power to Swan’s Island, about 30 miles to the north, and to nearby Frenchboro. Among the other board members present at the meeting was the Swan’s Island Co-op treasurer, George Baker, who had a home on Frenchboro. Baker, a faculty associate of HUCE, recalls being intrigued by the presentations at the meeting. He was particularly impressed with the Fox Islands presentation. They were much farther along than Swan’s Island and had had several community meetings, as well as the UMass study of wind resources. They had even identified a potential site. It was clear that a lot of work needed to be done before anyone could know if the project was feasible, but Baker had a sabbatical coming up. He offered to take on the task if the Island Institute, based on the mainland in Rockland, would provide him with administrative support. The Island Institute agreed, so Baker moved to Rockland and set to work. “He
spent two months looking at the data and said the first thing you learn in business school is that there are no $20 bills lying on the ground, because if there were one, someone would pick it up,” says Philip Conckling, Island Institute president. In this case there was, “it just took a lot of effort to bend down and pick it up.” From reviewing the data, Baker learned two critical things that pushed the project from an idea to a reality. Though wind power is typically not competitive with coal or natural-gas-fired power plants, because the islanders paid such high rates already—29 cents per kilowatt hour— Baker figured out that turbines would actually reduce islanders’ electric rates. Second, he showed that by using tax incentives to lower the cost of borrowing, it was feasible for the community electric cooperative to do the project itself; it wouldn’t need to bring in a private developer to build, own, and run the windmills. Baker knew that island communities are tightly knit, friendly to other islanders and wary of outsiders, particularly outsiders there to make a buck. “Those were two big revelations for the islanders, because they were pretty sure they had a viable wind resource, but thought they would have to invite in a developer to access that,” Conckling says. “That the islanders could actually…develop a community energy plan financed by themselves in significant measure, that was a major step forward.”
Harvard University Center for the Environment
FA C U LT Y P R O F I L E
s the eldest son of a third-generation scientist, Daniel Jacob initially studied science because it was what was expected of him. It wasn’t until he began his graduate studies that it became an obsession rather than an obligation. "I was going through the motions," says Jacob, McCoy Family professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering, of his early science education in France. Then, when he arrived at Caltech for graduate studies in engineering, there was 'a spark.' "I think it was the view of science as puzzles to solve. This—combined with the freewheeling attitude you have in the U.S.—it was like a breath of fresh air." Jacob first became interested in atmospheric chemistry after reading a 1978 Scientific American article on acid rain. Indeed, when he entered the field in the early 1980s, there was a heavy focus on the topic—an especially relevant subject in nearby Los Angeles at the time. But after joining the Harvard faculty in 1985, Jacob wanted to expand the reach of his work beyond local pollution issues, and began to concentrate his studies on the chemistry of the global troposphere—the lowest portion of Earth’s atmosphere. His analysis of the global atmosphere has increasingly led Jacob to the Arctic, a region in the midst of radical changes. "The warming we are seeing there right now is much faster than has been predicted by any of the climate models," says Jacob. He’s worked with NASA on several Arctic research proj12
Volume 3, Issue 2
ects, using satellites and planes to collect data on the chemistry of the region’s atmosphere. One of the agents that could accelerate the Arctic warming, he says, is soot from dirty combustion—everything from diesel engines to forest fires. When these black soot particles land in the Arctic, they coat the snow, and instead of reflecting the sunlight, attract the light and heat. One of the negative effects of higher Arctic temperatures, says Jacob, is the release of mercury into the ocean. The sea ice is a frequent destination for atmospheric mercury emissions from things like coal burning and waste incineration. He has been fascinated by the element of late, and is working to better understand the chemistry at work in its continuous cycle: from atmospheric emissions, to deposition on the ice, to the ocean, and then back into the atmosphere. "[The melting of the sea ice] is going to have a very big effect on the accumulation of mercury in fish," says Jacob. "And that’s of particular concern to indigenous populations who depend on fish for sustenance." All of this research has found its way into "Atmospheric Chemistry," a course Jacob has taught for more than two decades. Instructing young scientists has provided a kind of constant, allowing him a unique perspective on the field’s growth. "I always tell my students that the things that we are teaching them now were not known 10 or 20 years ago," he says. "And today, they get to see the science as it develops." — Dan Morrell
Baker, 53, had worked as an organizational economist for 22 years and had achieved some measure of success during his career at Harvard Business School. After being hired as an assistant professor in 1986, he had not only gained tenure, he had also been awarded a prestigious position as Krannert Professor of Business Administration. He had also become an expert in the design of compensation systems and in how incentives affect organizational performance. To Baker, the project was a chance to spend his sabbatical outside the world of academia, applying his skills to investigate a project with practical applications, one with implications for his own island community on Frenchboro, which was also considering wind power at the time. “My primary motivation was not an intellectual exercise, but a practical exercise,” Baker recalls. “All my academic colleagues expected me to turn it into research, because that’s what academics do. Instead, I’m turning it into gigantic machines on an island in Maine.” By the time Baker’s sabbatical was up, he realized the project was not only possible, but that it would be beneficial, lowering electric rates on the islands in a sustainable way. He took another leave to work on it, becoming vice president of community wind at the Island Institute. From his experience on Frenchboro, Baker knew that the project needed substantial support from the community, which grew through a series of public meetings. By August 2008, the Fox Islands Electric Co-op felt ready to have a vote. It polled co-op members, the ratepayers. Since it was the only electric company on the island, that meant it polled virtually the entire population of Vinalhaven and North Haven. The project passed overwhelmingly, 382-5, a 98 percent majority and margin so high that project supporters still point to it with pride. “Someone said you couldn’t get a 98 percent vote on the American flag out here,” Conckling says. The project soon kicked into high gear. In the months after the vote, Baker and Conckling worked furiously to get the detailed planning in place, including engineering studies, construction planning, and, of course, financing. The financing proved to be unique, Baker says. Because the Fox Islands Electric Co-op had borrowed years earlier to
In their first year, the windmills generated about 4 percent more power than expected. Electric costs have come down by about 5 centers a kilowatt hour, saving residents hundeds of dollars a year. its small size, agreed to get them turbines within a few months, rather than years. The project had been sized to match the island. It is a 4.5 megawatt facility, made up of three 1.5 megawatt turbines, which generate about the same power that the community uses in a year. Though some islanders dreamed of energy self-sufficiency, the power cable to the mainland remains a key feature. Wind power is generated when the wind blows. That doesn’t necessarily coincide with peak power demand. Turbines generate the most power during the stormy winter months when the fewest people are on the island. Generation is lower in the placid summer months, when the islands’ population surges, along with electricity consumption. The undersea power cable to the mainland allows the co-op to sell surplus power during the winter and buy additional power during the summer. Construction began in the summer of 2009, the only time of year that wind speeds are low enough to erect turbines. The towers were shipped from Quebec, the blades from Brazil and the generators from Florida, says Conckling. The crane to erect the towers was so big that it came on 18 trucks, shipped from the mainland in nine barge loads. Getting to the island wasn’t the only difficult part. With just one narrow north-south road, the trucks carrying turbine parts clogged traffic during the construction period. On one occasion, a truck tire slipped off the road. Luckily, the windmill part wasn’t damaged, but it was clearly going to take PETER RALSTON / ISLAND INSTITUTE
pay for the new electric cable to the mainland, its debt was too high to qualify for conventional financing, so Baker had to find other ways. The project was too small to attract attention from large corporations looking for tax credits that the government provides to wind projects, so Baker looked locally. He found Diversified Communications, a Portland-based media company, which committed $4.3 million, an amount later increased to $5 million, in exchange for the windmills’ tax credits for production. As a nonprofit, the Fox Islands Electric Co-op was not taxable, so couldn’t avail itself of the credits. So the Co-op created a for-profit entity, Fox Islands Wind, headed by Baker, to operate the windmills and sell the credits. For the balance of the project’s $14.5 million cost, Baker applied for a loan from the U.S. government’s Rural Utilities Service, which provided $9 million at just 3 ½ percent interest. With financing in place, they had to find windmills to buy. But because of the wind-farm building boom, there was a three year waiting list for turbines. Baker talked to turbine manufacturer General Electric, which, because of the community-supported nature of the project and
some doing to get the truck back on the road. On both sides, traffic began to back up. After a short time, Conckling says, islanders began walking past the truck, carrying parcels and packages. In a community where islanders trust their neighbors enough to regularly leave their keys in the car, they were swapping vehicles to get around the jam. That community spirit was in evidence at a celebration and official ribbon cutting on the first of December 2009, when the windmills were switched on. The project was in operation, sending electricity to the islands’ homes and to the mainland over the cable. In their first year of operation, the windmills generated about 4 percent more power than expected. Electric costs for island residents have come down by about 5 cents a kilowatt hour, Baker reports. Some unexpected expenses related to noise complaints by neighbors have eaten into the savings, says Baker, but some residents have nevertheless saved hundreds of dollars a year. According to Conckling, savings due to the windmills after the first year totaled $350,000, after all the costs and loan payments. The Fox Islands’ electric system wasn’t the only thing remade during the development process. Baker himself is in a different place professionally. When his first six-month leave ran out, he tried to return to his tenured post at Harvard Business School, but found himself stretched too thin, trying to be in two places at once and sleeping just a few hours a night. Six months later, he took a yearlong leave and, finally, last summer, gave up his tenured position and accepted a part-time role as a senior lecturer at HBS and a HUCE faculty associate. Despite giving up a position that many academics would consider the pinnacle of their career, Baker seems at ease with where he is professionally. He’s excited by
Much of the Vinalhaven community has rallied behind the wind project, including some of its youngest residents (pictured left). First year savings for the entire project totaled $350,000 after all costs and loan payments. Harvard University Center for the Environment
PETER RALSTON / ISLAND INSTITUTE
tric facility on a Maine riverbank, where plans include digging an enormous underground cavern, letting water flow down to generate power during the day when prices are high and pumping it back up to the surface again at night when prices are low. Throughout that session’s two and a half hours, Baker demonstrated the clarity and public speaking skills that were so useful in laying out the Fox Islands’ wind case to the islanders. Baker presented facts and drew students into the discussion, offering counterarguments, and then, when the subject was fully mined, moved the discussion on to address the next topic. For sophomore Ryan Heffrin, interested in a career in renewable energy, the class covered issues she’d like to be more involved with when she graduates. That sentiment was echoed by Louis Amira, who, as a senior preparing for a job in energy consulting, is a bit closer to that reality. For Amira, the class provided a break from the theories often taught in other classes and a glimpse of the real world waiting after graduation, where renewable energy offers a path toward a healthier environment. “I find it difficult to believe the solution [to global environmental problems] doesn’t in some way hinge on renewable energy,” Amira says. Though Baker’s recent career trajectory could belong to someone going through an environmental awakening, when asked whether he’s an environmentalist, Baker grimaces. He’s concerned about environmental problems, he says, but doesn’t think solutions should be achieved at all costs. To him, solutions to the world’s environmental problems have to make economic sense—not just because he loves economics—but because if they don’t, they won’t be widely adopted and their impact will be minimal. On the Fox Islands, no one would accuse the Vinalhaven windmills of having minimal impact. The turbines have made many residents happy with their savings and with the idea that they’re helping fight climate change. That happiness is
Wind power, which drives boat sails and windmill turbines (like the ones on Vinalhaven, seen in the background above), fluctuates greatly. This intermittency problem has long plagued renewables like solar and wind.
the real-world problems he’s grappling with on Vinalhaven and through his work with VCharge, an energy-related startup. He’s also excited about his new teaching duties at Harvard. As a part-time faculty member, Baker is teaching just one class, but it’s near and dear to his heart. The undergraduate seminar, “The Technology, Economics and Public Policy of Renewable Energy,” is about the practical considerations facing renewable energy in this country, allowing Baker to draw on his experience on Vinalhaven and pushing him to learn more about other technologies. Baker jokes that for some lessons, he’s just a step ahead of his students. Baker employs the Business School’s case-method teaching style for his twodozen undergraduates, presenting situations and problems and then eliciting responses through a broad-ranging classroom discussion. One April class dealt with Fox Islands Wind, the potential for a similar installment on Monhegan Island, and plans for a pumped hydroelec14
Volume 3, Issue 2
not universal, however. A handful of island residents say the turbines are unexpectedly loud and disrupt their lives at home. They have formed a group pushing for Fox Islands Wind to reduce the noise by slowing the windmills at night. Art Lindgren, a member of the Fox Islands Wind Neighbors, says he can’t sleep and his property value has fallen. He puts the blame squarely on Baker, accusing him of poor project planning, deception, and making the unhappy neighbors a target of other islanders’ anger. The group has attracted media attention and filed complaints with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which last fall agreed that the windmills were out of compliance with the state’s 45 decibel sound limit, rising a few decibels over that limit on several occasions. The Maine DEP, however, also asked Lindgren to stop his repeated complaints, according to Lindgren. When asked about the sound issue, Baker responds carefully. He points out that those upset with the windmills are a small minority–10 or 15 people–and not necessarily those living closest to the windmill site. A May 2010 survey of Coop members seems to bear out that contention. The survey, conducted by the Fox Islands Electric Co-op, showed that 95 percent of respondents remained supportive of the project. Even so, some of the comments made on the survey indicated that the disagreement over noise has strained the close-knit community, with some saying that accommodation should be made for those upset, while others cheer the wind installation, saying those who don’t like it could pack up and leave. Several supporters of the wind project say it’s unfortunate that media coverage of the windmills has focused on the dis-
While teaching his class, Baker draws on his experience on Vinalhaven. The course offers students a glimpse of the real world waiting after graduation, where renewable energy offers a path toward a healthier environment.
pute, coloring how it’s perceived by the off-island public. “It’s sort of taken the bloom off the rose,” Alcorn says. Though clearly frustrated by the issue, Baker says it’s important to take the complaints of the neighbors seriously, something echoed by other supporters of the project. Fox Islands Wind is conducting studies to characterize the nature of the complaints. Baker says he’d rather not take blanket actions like slowing the windmills every night, which would seriously affect the power generated and ratepayers savings. Instead, Baker is convinced that a more targeted solution is possible, one that would allow the turbines to be slowed at particular times of the day or in particular wind conditions that result in the greatest annoyance. Baker disputes the Maine DEP’s find-
ings that the windmills were out of compliance, saying Fox Islands Wind’s own studies show that is not the case. He believes that ambient noise, such as the wind in the trees, confounded the Maine DEP readings, since they can’t measure windmill sound by the standard practice of measuring on a quiet day with little ambient sound, since the blades wouldn’t be turning then. Since the amount by which they were found to be out of compliance is two decibels, on the threshold of human hearing, quieting the windmills by that amount wouldn’t provide much relief, Baker says. “What’s going on is these things make a little bit of sound, they just do,” Baker says. “We’ve been working with the National Renewable Energy Lab, not to worry about decibels, but to figure out
when people are bothered by it and what it is about the sound that bothers people and see if there’s something we could do with targeted curtailment during times when it’s most bothersome.” Baker has addressed the noise issue with his students as well, telling them that those complaining today are not people who had been out to kill the project all along. Instead, they had been among its supporters but found something about the noise deeply objectionable. Those residents feel as if they were misled about the noise issue and, though Baker doesn’t feel anyone was misled, he says if he had to do it again, he’d handle the noise issue differently. If there’s a lesson to be learned, he says, it’s that all energy sources have impacts. Though the islanders enjoyed quiet en-
FA C U LT Y P R O F I L E
Emma Rothschild Emma Rothschild’s first book, Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age (1973), was borne of a trio of influences: an interest in the politics of Michigan and the auto industry, a fascination with the decline of one of the country’s leading economic sectors, and a blossoming interest in the environmental challenges posed by automobiles. Those early days of the environmental movement—as it was beginning its ascent into the public consciousness—were heady times, says the Knowles professor of history, recalling her involvement in environmental issues while attending MIT in the late 1960s. "It was a change in perspective in the world. It was tremendously exciting." Rothschild shares a similar enthusiasm about the recent rise of environmental concerns in her field of study, which today focuses on eighteenth and nineteenth century history. "Environmental history has become much more established in the last ten years, and is connecting to central parts of historical scholarship, political history, and social history," she says. "It’s part of the mainstream." An example of particular interest to Rothschild is the recently launched Energy History Project, a research collaboration between Harvard’s Joint Center for History and Economics and the MIT Research Group on History, Energy, and Environment. Her interactions with other scholars on the
project have been revelatory. While writing her most recent book, The Inner Life of Empires, which examines eighteenth century Scotland through the well-documented exploits of one of its political families, she says she began to think about the family’s reliance on wind and rivers for transport and the effects of climate and environment on their health and character. "It is by talking about energy history that I had the idea that one could re-evaluate eighteenth century economic history by incorporating an energy accounting. And I expect that other really quite important issues in world history—like the economics of the slave trade—will be illuminated by adding an energy perspective." This kind of historical work has modern applications. Rothschild notes that one of her Energy History Project colleagues, Paul Warde of the University of East Anglia, is studying historical periods of energy transition—from wood to coal and coal to oil—and all of the economic, social, and spatial transformations that came with those changes. "I think there is a real possibility there of contributing to a relatively new part of the historical discipline—one that has huge implications for how we think about important public policy choices," she
says—"in particular, how we deal with energy transitions. That is… extremely important for people to think about as the world contemplates an even larger scale transition from the use of fossil fuels to renewables." Practicing historical research that has contemporary utility is exactly what Rothschild sees as the ultimate goal of the Energy History Project: "We want to understand how our societies got to where they are now— with respect to energy use and the ensuing patterns of land use and social organization," she says. This kind of information will "help us to think about the enormous choices that lie ahead—in the not-verydistant-future." — Dan Morrell
Harvard University Center for the Environment
ergy from the cable for many years, that power was generated somewhere, by nearby coal or nuclear plants, and those plants have a cost, hidden to islanders when they flip a switch. “There’s no such thing as zero impact. We have to look at alternatives and choose,” Baker says. “If we make a rule that we can’t do anything that has an impact, we won’t do anything. We’ll sit and quietly cook over the next 50 years.” Under Obama’s leadership, the U.S. appears poised to do something to clean its electricity supply. William Hogan, Plank professor of global energy policy in the Kennedy School of Government and research director of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, says wind’s low cost compared to other renewables makes it the most viable candidate for clean energy growth. “It’s a relatively small portion of the energy mix now, but it has two appealing characteristics. It’s been growing rapidly and it’s probably the cheapest renewable
PETER RALSTON / ISLAND INSTITUTE
"There's no such thing as zero impact. We have to look at alternatives and choose. If we make a rule that we can't do anything that has an impact, we'll sit quietly and cook over the next 50 years."
energy technology for generating electricity,” says Hogan, a HUCE faculty associate. “When people talk about expanding renewables, they’re often talking about wind.” Hogan, whose Kennedy School office features a two-foot wire model of a transmission tower and whose tables are scattered with energy books, cautions that calling wind cheaper than other renewables doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Without government subsidies, onshore wind is 20 to 50 percent more expensive than fossil fuels; and offshore wind, which puts towers in the ocean and so has the added cost of construction and operation in a hostile environment, is two to three times more expensive than fossil fuels. “Costs are coming down rapidly,” he says, “but we’re not in a situation where wind is competitive on its own.” Government subsidies currently take the form of tax credits. One is a production tax credit, given for each kilowatt hour of wind power generated. The second is for renewable energy, a tradable credit that can be purchased by organizations required by state law to add some green to their energy mix. The subsidies do bring down costs, but wind power advocates have had to contend with the same kind of capriciousness from the federal government as have supporters of other environmental issues. The environment remains one of several issues in the crucible of America’s culture war and a focal point of political strife. Clean energy has been linked to the battle over
Volume 3, Issue 2
climate change and portrayed as being at odds with those whose energy policy mantra is as simple as ‘drill, baby drill.’ What that means is that the tax credits, approved on an annual basis, have been allowed to lapse several times, creating an uncertain environment for planners of wind projects. “You’d like to have a more stable environment, but this is the U.S.,” Hogan says dryly. While some are critical of the wind industry’s reliance on subsidies to bring their cost down, wind advocates say the subsidy argument cuts both ways. AWEA says that every energy technology is supported by government incentives, including fossil fuels, citing a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that says that between the 2002 and 2007 fiscal years, fossil fuels received $13.7 billion in government incentives compared with just $2.8 billion for renewables. Hogan is skeptical that large-scale transformation of the U.S. energy system is possible without a tax on carbon emissions. Still, he believes that technology could provide opportunities for cost-saving innovations. “There are significant opportunities and the potential for technological improvement,” Hogan says. “We know more than nothing, but there’s a lot left to learn.” Besides high costs, a transition to largescale wind power presents two hurdles. Foremost is location. The wind blows hardest in places where there aren’t necessarily a lot of people. That implies running new transmission lines to get the power from the windy hinterlands to the cities where it’s needed. Hogan says the cost of the transmission lines aren’t the biggest hurdle: it’s figuring out who has to pay for them that’s difficult. Federal courts have already ruled that costs can’t just be spread across all ratepayers, they Ribbon cutting attendees (L to R): Deb McNeil, regional rep. for Senator Olympia Snowe; Michelle Michaud, regional rep. for Senator Susan Collins; Hannah Pingree, former Speaker of the House; Maine congresswoman Chellie Pingree; Diversified Communications chairman Horace Hildreth; Jack Sullivan, General Electric; Charles Barrington, manager, Fox Islands Electric Co-op, Farrington; George Baker (at podium); Joseph Badin, director, Maine Rural Utility Service and director, Northern region, Rural Utilities Service; Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue; former Maine governor John Baldacci; Philip Conkling, Island Institute president.
The wind's variability is problematic because today's power grid has no way to store energy. "We need something to back up [wind] when nothing's blowing," Hogan says. "If you have natural gas or coal plants, usually both won't go down at once." have to be borne by those who benefit from the lines. The problem, Hogan says, is figuring out who those people are. Another serious problem is intermittency. The wind blows and then stops on its own schedule, and though wind-power developers pick sites known to be windier, the power supply fluctuates. The wind’s variability is problematic because today’s power grid has no way to store energy. That means it has no place to put extra energy supplied by wind farms on a windy day and no place to get additional energy when wind turbines slow on a calm day. Today’s power plant operators match electricity generation to usage, or load, which rises and falls predictably by time of day and season. Demand is low in the morning, for example, and rises on hot summer days when air conditioners are running. One of the benefits of fossil fuel plants is that they can run around the clock for weeks at a time. When one comes offline, other plants can be fired up to meet the demand. It’s rare, Hogan says, for all the coal and natural gas plants to be offline at once. That’s not the case with wind. “We need something to back up [wind] when nothing’s blowing,” he says. “If you have natural gas or coal plants, usually both won’t go down at the same time.” The intermittency problem isn’t yet much of a factor in the push to increase wind production. Wind power makes up such a small part of the total U.S. electricity generation, explains Hogan, that the intermittency is washed out in the grid’s normal operating fluctuations. As wind becomes a larger part of the national energy mix, however, the problem will need to be dealt with, he says.
From a cost standpoint, Hogan says the Fox Islands wind project provides an interesting niche situation, where wind power makes economic as well as environmental sense. While there may be similar niche markets around the United States, where wind is competitive because the cost of fossil-fuel generated electricity is initially high due to local conditions, he isn’t sure there are lessons applicable to the broader market related to cost. Another aspect of the project, however, may offer broader lessons. “The interesting thing about that project is not the wind, but the bricks,” says Hogan, referring to the islanders’ unusual approach to the intermittency problem. The high-density ceramic bricks Hogan refers to were part of a pilot project during the winter and spring of 2010 designed to turn the intermittency of wind from a disadvantage to an advantage. The island’s energy issues reflect those of the broader country, Conckling explains. While electricity is a significant portion of the energy used, even more goes to transportation and heating of homes and buildings, each of which account for 40 percent of overall energy consumption. On a windy island off of the Maine coast, heating costs are not
William Hogan, Plank professor of global energy policy in the Kennedy School of Government, is also the research director of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group.
only considerable, they’re incurred for much of the year. In the winter, when the turbines are turning out more electricity than the islanders need, the excess gets sold back to the New England grid at wholesale prices of just 4 or 5 cents a kilowatt hour. At the same time, heating homes and businesses is done with oil barged from the mainland at a 30 percent premium, roughly $3.10 a gallon. That got Baker thinking: what if they used the extra power generated by the turbine to offset heating costs for islanders? Wouldn’t that be preferable to selling it to the mainland at just a few cents per kilowatt hour? Baker figured that the equivalent of heating one’s home with $3.10 oil would be electricity at 10 cents per kilowatt hour. He knew that the price of electricity fluctuates daily, with prices dropping significantly when demand falls, as it does during the early morning hours. Baker contacted a company that sold a heater based on an old technology, one
Harvard University Center for the Environment
The islands are looking for other ways to take advantage of Vinalhaven's surplus power. "Now that we have a $14.5 million dollar project, how do we take another step in innovating? I think what the Fox Islands have done is major, it's a big step for an island community to show what's possible elsewhere." that was devised in World War II Germany for a similar purpose: to help cope with intermittent power due to war-related outages. The concept is simple. The bricks form a solid mass that can be heated electrically, through heating elements like the burners on an electric stove, that then slowly releases the heat over hours and days. Six units were installed as a test in four businesses and two homes to be used as supplemental heat. The key to the whole experiment was not just the brick storage units, but the modern controls that went with them. The control unit monitored the electric grid and, when it saw that the islands were selling electricity to the mainland inexpensively, it turned on the heating units, converting cheap electricity to heat. Able to store heat for several days, the heating units were mostly used for supplemental space heating, with a blower fan to move air into the room. The units were centrally controlled by the Co-op, which only turned them on when prices fell to the point that they could charge customers a few cents more than the wholesale price the Co-op would have gotten from the mainland and a few cents less than the 10 cent per kilowatt hour equivalent price customers would have paid for heating their home with oil. “It was a giant win-win,” Baker says. Kris Davidson had one of the heating units in her real estate office and says it was efficient, quiet, and worked well as a supplement to her kerosene heating system for the three months the test unit was there. “Even if we were to lose power in a snowstorm, I loved the idea that the bricks retained their heat,” she says. Electricity is generally considered by environmentalists a poor choice for heating because power plants are relatively inefficient at generating electricity (about 55 percent efficient), while individual home furnaces burning oil or natural gas are much more efficient—80 to 95 per18
Volume 3, Issue 2
cent. When coupled with wind power, though, systems like those piloted on Vinalhaven, called thermal energy storage systems, have the potential to turn electricity into a green and potentially economical choice even as they help solve wind’s intermittency problem. “Electric heat has a justifiably terrible reputation among environmentalists,” Baker says. “But if you’re using wind power,” it can be an efficient way to capture excess capacity. The thermal energy storage unit acts like a giant battery, storing energy generated by wind turbines as heat and releasing it slowly into living spaces. “Unless the wind stops blowing for three days, you won’t run out of heat,” Baker says. “The problem for renewables in general—solar and wind—is that you don’t get energy when you want it, you get it when God wants to give it to you. That’s not the way the grid works.” Baker is president and chief financial officer of the startup called VCharge that makes the complex controls that monitor electric prices on the grid and ensure that cheap power is used to heat the thermal storage units. The company is expanding the idea beyond Vinalhaven and beyond wind. Charging heaters at night when rates are low works whether the power comes from wind, coal, gas or solar. VCharge and Baker have begun a trial with the town energy company in Concord, Mass., where they have installed heating units in nine homes. Unlike the Vinalhaven experiment, however, the Concord program doesn’t use the thermal energy storage units for supplemental heat, but to replace central heat. Baker is looking for broader applications beyond both Vinalhaven and Concord. One place that seems a good candidate for thermal energy storage is Iowa. The Midwest has ample wind resources. Already, 15 percent of Iowa’s electricity is generated by wind, the highest percent-
age in the nation, and industry estimates indicate it could rise to as much as 20 percent this year. But, absent transmission lines adequate to carry the peak power to urban centers, wind farm operators are in a bit of a conundrum. Sitting in his HUCE office, Baker calls up a real time map of electricity prices from wind across the country, showing the strange situation of prices going negative. Windmills that spin when demand is low can overload the system so much that, if operators didn’t shut off the windmills, they’d pay people to use electricity. Needless to say, they shut them off. “We’re throwing away free energy,” Baker says. Instead of shutting the turbines down, he asks, why not use energy storage strategies to charge the electric cars of people in the area and heat their homes? “The alternative is to put controllable load around those places,” Baker says. “Why not charge everyone’s cars up or why not just get everyone’s bricks hot? Every single day, absolutely reliably, the price of electricity varies by a factor of two or three. If it’s 6-7-8 cents a kilowatt hour at 7 p.m., it’s two to three cents at 2 a.m.” Now that the successful Vinalhaven thermal energy storage pilot program has ended, the Fox Islands Electric Co-op is considering what to do next. Island Energy Task Force member Lachman says a necessary step to widespread installation of the heaters will be to create a new rate structure so that the co-op can charge different rates for those who use the heaters. They also have to decide how many heaters they can install and who should get them. It’s likely, he says, that town buildings will be first in line, since that would benefit the entire community. The islands are looking for other ways to take advantage of Vinalhaven’s surplus power, such as importing electric cars that could be charged overnight when power is cheap. The shorter range of an electric vehicle is not a concern on the islands’ limited terrain. Details of a trial are still being worked out, Lachman says. “We have a tremendous amount of interest on the island in energy now. Now that we have a $14.5 million dollar project, how do we utilize this to take another step in innovating?” says Lachman. “I think what the Fox Islands have done is major, it’s a big step for an island community to show what’s possible elsewhere.”
Cleaner Lighting Through Chemistry: Aziz seeks chemical solution to renewables’ energy storage problem Michael Aziz likes what he sees in George Baker’s solution to the on-again, off-again nature of renewable energy generation on Vinalhaven Island (see story on page 10). Aziz calls Baker’s use of a low-tech, longproven heat storage system to even out wind’s intermittency “a brilliant solution for what to do with excess wind power in cold, windy places where people almost always need heat” that could work well in other parts of the country. And, “to the extent that the area’s heating is coming from fossil fuel combustion,” he adds, “this displaces that. That’s really a huge step forward.” But Aziz, Sykes professor of materials and energy technologies at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a faculty associate of HUCE, says Baker’s thermal energy storage idea solves just half of renewables’ intermittency problems. “It doesn't let you watch TV on a calm night.” The problems arise because the modern energy grid has no storage capacity. Instead of storing excess power and releasing it when needed, power plants today are managed to meet constantly changing demand. That means that intermittent sources like wind and photovoltaics are ill-suited to play a major part in generating energy. Instead of a predictable supply that can be dispatched at will to meet demand, they generate power only when the wind blows or the sun shines. While Baker’s thermal energy storage units solve the problem of what to do with excess power, they don’t address how to provide electricity when the air is still and turbines aren’t moving. On Vinalhaven and North Haven, the solution lies in an undersea cable to the mainland grid, over which they can buy extra power when needed. That type of solution will only go so far, Aziz says. As wind and solar become more significant contributors to the electric grid, both sides of the problem of intermittency—excess capacity on the one hand, and excess demand on the other—will have to be addressed. That’s why Aziz has been working on a new type of fuel cell that stores excess electrical energy. Aziz’s battery-like solution is old in concept but new in design. Traditional rechargeable solid-electrode batteries can deliver high
power, but can't store enough energy to deliver high power for long. For example, a bank of batteries capable of delivering one megawatt of power could be installed at the base of a one megawatt wind turbine so that on a calm, hot summer day when that megawatt is needed to run air conditioners the batteries could deliver it. The problem is that these batteries would be exhausted in roughly an hour. For the battery bank to deliver that megawatt reliably during a four-day windless heat wave, it would have to be 100 times as large and 100 times as costly. This is why battery backups have not been implemented on a large-scale commercially. Aziz is working instead on liquid chemical storage of electrical energy, based on the technology used in hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells. A fuel cell works by separating the electron and proton that make up a hydrogen atom, creating an electrical current in the form of a flow of electrons. The harmless reaction product is water.
as heat at the oxygen electrode. Aziz has therefore been experimenting with liquid chemical batteries that work on the same principle but that replace oxygen with another element such as bromine or chlorine. These “regenerative fuel cells” or “flow batteries,” have shown efficiencies much higher and heat losses much lower than in hydrogenoxygen fuel cells. But because these chemicals are much more corrosive than oxygen, developing materials that maintain their ability to catalyze the reactions and keep the efficiency high has been challenging. Aziz recently filed for patent protection on a family of such materials, while continuing to
"If these problems can be solved, I think we could conceivably have one of these flow battery systems at every wind turbine...in five years, we could have something that’s viable at a reasonably large scale.” Fuel cells can be run backward as well as forward, Aziz explains. Excess electricity from a renewable source such as a wind turbine can be used to reverse the process, splitting water molecules to produce hydrogen and oxygen. Storing the hydrogen and oxygen essentially charges the cell so it can later create electricity on demand when wind turbines aren’t turning. Scaling the storage capacity is a simple matter of sizing holding tanks for the chemical reactants and products. Delivering the desired amount of energy doesn’t require 100 times more power delivery hardware. But there have been problems with this approach due to enormous losses of energy
test their long-term stability. Aziz and his colleagues are working on such flow battery systems with a Connecticut firm, Sustainable Innovations; Aziz believes that if the technical problems can be overcome, such a battery could be placed in a basement next to a wind turbine, with large tanks of inexpensive chemicals fueling cells to provide power when the wind slows down or storing it when the turbines produce a surplus. “I think we could conceivably have one of these flow battery systems at every wind turbine,” Aziz says. “In five years, we could have something that’s viable at a reasonably —A.P large scale.”
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Re-envisioning Engineering's Role in Energy and the Environment An interview with Cherry A. Murray Cherry A. Murray, who became dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2009, was formerly a senior vice president for physical sciences and wireless research at Bell Laboratories and then an executive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Armstrong professor of engineering and applied sciences has broad experience working on real-world problems, including issues of national importance. She has participated in more than 80 national and international scientific advisory committees, governing boards, and National Research Council panels. Most recently, she served on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Harvard University Center for the Environment director Daniel Schrag spoke with Murray in July. Daniel Schrag: Let’s talk about energy and the environment. Last year, in addition to all of your decanal duties, you served on President Obama’s commission to look at what happened during the BP oil spill. Did that experience surprise you in any way or was it mostly what you expected?
along with them, the issues that arose in the implementation of the Oil Spill Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed to address an event of national significance such as this. The emergency response plan that was written into the Oil Spill Pollution Act did not work effectively, and we experienced this in real time. We also experienced a great deal of
the populace: the first is tourism; the second is fishing; and the third is oil and gas production. Every family does all three. So it wasn’t a case of the environmentalist against the oil companyit was far more nuanced. And what I didn’t realize until getting involved in this was that the major politics were not driven directly by the big oil companies. Most of the jobs are due to the thousands or tens of thousands of smaller companies (contractors) that work with the big oil companies providing services like helicopter flights, for example. The safety issues around deep-water drilling that stood out like a red flag turn out to be a lot harder than you might think to enforce. And they are complicated by the fact that there is not just one agency responsible—there are many. Schrag: You mention the politics that you experienced. At the event that the Center for the Environment held last year in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the EPA, Bill Ruckelshaus, the agency’s first administrator (under President Richard Nixon) recalled how the Clean Air Act of 1970 passed unanimously in the Senate. We are clearly in a very different place politically with respect to energy and the environment at this time in this country. How does that affect your thinking about the academic program at Harvard in engineering for energy and the environment?
Cherry Murray: Unlike most presidential commissions, which have a two-year life span, this one had a sixMurray: Energy and the month time frame. So, it Environment are intimately was an unexpected amount mixed, so any energy technolof work because we had to ogy affects the environment come up to speed extremely and, I would say, vice versa. quickly. Furthermore, unlike I actually think what we are Cherry A. Murray, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Scithe [space shuttle] Challenger doing and setting out to do at ences. Murray is well-known for her scientific accomplishments using Commission, for example, where light scattering. In 2002, Discover Magazine named her one of the “50 Harvard is exactly the right prothe event happened, the commis- Most Important Women in Science.” gram, which is not just an engision was named, and then had neering program, but is instead basically two years to do its work, this politics, partly because the event was broadly interdisciplinary. oil spill was ongoing. While people were still unfolding, and partly because in the Technology alone is not going to solve still experiencing this environmental five states that were affected by the spill, the problems we have in feeding, clothdisaster in slow motion, we witnessed, there are really three kinds of work for ing, serving and providing a middle-class 20
Volume 3, Issue 2
lifestyle to seven billion people on Earth. How people live their lives is critically important. We need to have all the disciplines working together. The Harvard University Center for the Environment (which needs to be relabeled to having two “Es”—adding one for energy) is bringing all of these disciplines together. I think that is exactly what we need-it’s what the world needs. Within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), we have had a very strong program on atmospheric sciences and climate for a long time, which we need to maintain; it is quite important. But on the energy technology side, it is a more difficult challenge because it isn’t really just one field; it is multi-disciplinary and it is quite interdisciplinary.
Murray: I think of “Every tub on its own bottom” as the University’s holding company model. So each little company, or school in the case of Harvard, can compete with its peers: the law school competes with law schools, business school with business schools, etc…. That allows us an amazing amount of flexibility and I believe that has made us number one in every case except engineering. Engineering is the newest school. It hasn’t had the opportunity yet to compete the way the other schools have for hundreds of years. I would not want to lose that model. What I want to do—and I think this is the right thing for Harvard to do—is continue with that model but have the schools work even more closely together.
Schrag: In some ways, Harvard is at a disadvantage because we don’t have an enormous engineering school. But SEAS’s manageable size means that it can bring greater coherence to tackling big problems. The school can be a place where material science and applied physics and bioengineering can come together in a way that they can’t at other places that have big walls between these disciplines.
"I have a vision that every Harvard undergraduate will be touched in some way— either by a course, extracurricular activity, January term, or secondary field—with an understanding of engineering and technology, including energy and the environment. This is important because we help to launch global leaders, for whom it is critically important to have an understanding of science and technology."
Murray: That’s true. I also think, however, that we can be a place where policy, laws, governance of institutions, and technology can play together. That’s even harder in other places. There are major energy hubs in other places such as MIT, but I think our real strength is bringing science and engineering together with policy, social science, and the global reach that we have. I think of all our alumni networks: we know the President of Chile, for example, who happens to be a Harvard alum. I think that is profound. I do believe, however, that we need to build a critical mass of people working on and interested in energy technologies. That means hiring more faculty members in this area. We already have quite an interest in the community. Schrag: In the context of building schools, the classic view of Harvard is “Every tub on its own bottom.” You know the Center for the Environment (which we hope someday will be the Center for Energy and the Environment) works away from that model.
Schrag: The kind of collaboration we are trying to advance through the Center for the Environment. Murray: That’s right. And, it’s working. The Center works effectively with deans to raise the level of intellectual excitement and engagement around the University, making Harvard a more vibrant place to be. Getting people to talk— English professors talking to post-docs who are working on energy technology—can actually be very profound. That
would not happen in a typical academic environment. Schrag: The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has already been incredibly important in starting the Graduate Consortium on Energy and the Environment. And you have been a fantastic partner in helping to advance the secondary field in energy and environment that we hope to launch this year. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts about the undergraduate offerings and the role of engineering and applied sciences? Not just for our own students, who are concentrators, but for the broader group of undergraduates at Harvard? Murray: I have a vision that every Harvard undergraduate will be touched in some way—either by a course, extracurricular activity, January term, or secondary field—with an understanding of engineering and technology, including energy and the environment. This is important because we help to launch global leaders. For example, I recently met with the deans of engineering at the top schools in China. Of the twelve deans I met, three were Harvard graduates. That’s pretty impressive. And at another level, I think it is really critically important for global leaders—think of Al Gore ’69, and his early understanding of greenhouse gases that he learned about as a student here—to have a better understanding of science and technology. I believe there are also some important affinities between engineering and leadership. I recently wrote a Crimson editorial arguing that we need more engineers in leadership positions. Engineers have to know how to solve problems. They have to be managers. That’s what leaders do, too. In essence, we need much broader understanding of what engineering is. In the Ivy League, engineering is exciting because it is rooted in a liberalarts-based curriculum. I think that is the way engineering should be taught in the twenty-first century. Certainly that’s the way leaders should be taught. Giving them some exposure to the challenges of energy and environment will be essential for the world in the next century. It is one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge, of our time.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
HUCE Seed Grants Support Collaborative Faculty Research This year, the Center awarded grants to five faculty research teams, bringing together faculty members from FAS and six other Schools to seed innovative and collaborative projects on issues that address the challenges of energy and environment. These new projects will be hosted by the Center, and supported administratively by HUCE staff, who will assist the teams with planning group meetings, organizing events, and managing the logistics of each group’s activities. The projects and their lead faculty organizers include: Sea Level Rise in the Greater Boston Area: Strategies for Adaptation Boston’s complex geography leaves the city and surrounding communities vulnerable to sea level rise. By uniting climate science, law and public policy, urban planning, and design, the group will evaluate potential strategies for adapting to the expected sea level rise in the Greater Boston area during the next century. Gerald Frug (HLS); Jerold Kayden (GSD, HKS); Daniel Schrag (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences,
SEAS); Charles Waldheim (GSD) Biological Approaches to the Recovery of Scarce Energy Materials The development and expansion of large scale “green” technologies to meet growing energy demands, while minimizing CO2 generation, relies on the availability of scarce metals. An interdisciplinary team will explore the possibility of using microbes for the extraction and recovery of scarce metals, making the production of green materials more cost-effective. David R. Clarke (SEAS); Peter R. Girguis (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology); Evelyn L. Hu (SEAS); Colleen Hansel (SEAS); Richard Losick (Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology) What is the Real Cost of Disasters? This project brings together faculty from global health, climate science, and economics to develop new methodologies to calculate the cost of disasters—including their economic, political, and public health consequences—with the goal of contributing
HUCE Welcomes New Environmental Fellows HUCE extends a warm welcome to its newest cohort of Environmental Fellows, who will join a current group of scholars embarking on their second year of the program. Now in its fifth season, the Fellows program recruits a diverse group of intellectually-curious, high-achieving scholars to work closely with a faculty mentor to tackle complex environmental challenges in a wide array of disciplines. The 2011 Environmental Fellows are: Emily V. Fischer, Ph.D. ’10 Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington Emily V. Fischer is an atmospheric chemist interested in how air pollutants are transported around the globe and how the atmosphere’s self-cleansing capacity will respond to climate change. Emily will work
Volume 3, Issue 2
with Daniel Jacob of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to explore atmospheric chemistry-climate interactions. Her work will explore the processes controlling the distribution of the most important atmospheric oxidants, the hydroxyl radical and ozone. Christopher Golden, Ph.D. ’11 Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley Chris Golden is an ecologist and epidemiologist interested in the interface of ecosystem service provisioning and human health, specifically in the context of global trends in biodiversity loss and ecosystem transformation. Chris will work with Walter Willett at the Harvard School of Public Health and Sam Myers at Harvard Medi-
to discussions of climate change adaptation strategies. Jennifer Leaning (HSPH, HMS); Michael VanRooyen (HSPH, HMS) Global History of Energy An initiative of the Joint Center for History and Economics, this research project focuses on the history of energy use and transformation and its interaction with economic, social, and environmental processes in a global context. Its outcome will be a major new research and educational program which sets the history of energy in a broad context of economic, environmental, and social change. Alison Frank (Department of History); Richard Hornbeck (Department of Economics); Ian Miller (Department of History) Characterization and Assessment of Domestic Climate Policies As the international climate change policy process continues to move slowly, domestic policies become even more important for meaningful progress. This project will work to advance public policy addressing global climate change through an assessment of domestic (national and possibly sub-national) climate-change policies in both industrialized and developing countries. Robert N. Stavins (HKS); William Hogan (HKS); Forest Reinhardt (HBS)
cal School to study the human health impacts of ecosystem services. Through these collaborations, Chris is hoping to increase the geographic scale and depth of his decade-long research in Madagascar, in which he has examined the local population’s dependence on natural resources for maintaining adequate health. Francis Ludlow, Ph.D. ’11 Geography, Trinity College Dublin Francis Ludlow is a historical climatologist studying the documentary record of annalistic and chronicle sources compiled in Ireland from the fifth to the 17th centuries, with respect to their rich evidence for the occurrence of historic meteorological extremes, natural hazards and their impacts upon medieval Irish society and the biosphere. Francis will work with Michael McCormick in the Department of History, seeking to create a unified high-resolution
Environment @ Harvard A sampling of the fall semester’s events Ongoing Series
The Future of Energy
The Future of Energy lecture series focuses on finding secure, safe, and reliable sources of energy to power world economic growth. The fall series kicked off in early October with Chris Somerville, Director of the Energy Biosciences Institute; professor at the University of California, Berkeley; and visiting scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Somerville discussed new technological innovations for producing fuels through biochemical methods. The Center also hosted Susan Tierney, Managing Principal at Analysis Group and former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy for a talk on the risks and opportunities presented by natural gas. The semester concludes on November 30 with James Hackett, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. This spring, the Center will welcome author and energy expert Daniel Yergin to campus. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, “The Prize: The Epic Quest chronology of meteorological extremes and abrupt climatic changes for Ireland. This will form the basis of an investigation into the impacts of environmental stresses upon Irish society in the medieval period. Fabien Paulot, Ph.D. ’11 Environmental Science and Engineering, California Institute of Technology Fabien Paulot is an atmospheric chemist who is interested in the interplay between the biosphere and the composition of the atmosphere. He will work with Daniel Jacob in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences on photochemistry in the tropics, an environment that offers unique opportunities to investigate the mechanisms by which the photooxidation of biogenic VOCs participates in biosphere-atmosphere interactions. As the tropics experience rapid economic development, special
for Oil, Money and Power,” which was made into a PBS documentary. His new book, “The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World,” focuses on how energy has become an engine of global political and economic change. Stay tuned to the HUCE website for more information on this and other spring events. Past lectures can be viewed online anytime at http://www.environment. harvard.edu/events/video. Biodiversity, Ecology, & Global Change
Each semester, this series brings top scholars in the fields of biology and ecology to Harvard. This fall, the Center hosted Richard T. T. Forman, HUCE faculty associate and PAES Professor of Landscape Ecology at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, for a lecture on his new concept of a sustainable roadvehicle transportation system. Joshua Tewksbury, Walker professor of natural history at the University of Washington continued the series with a discussion on the impacts of climate change and how ecology plays a role in our response to
emphasis will be devoted to quantifying the changes in tropical photochemistry in response to anthropogenic activities and their consequences for the health of tropical ecosystems. Jenny Suckale, Ph.D. ’11 Geophysics, MIT Jenny Suckale is a geophysicist who studies the dynamics of multiphase flow in natural systems ranging from glacial beds to volcanic conduits. Her main motivation is to create and disseminate knowledge that can help to reduce the social and economic impacts of natural and environmental disasters. Jenny will work with James Rice in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences on the physics of meltdowns. She will examine multiphase flows that might arise through pervasive melting in permafrost soils or ice sheets, and work to develop computational tools tailored and optimized for these types of systems.
environmental issues. Lars O. Hedin, professor of terrestrial biogeochemistry, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University, will round out the fall series on November 15. The full academic year list of speakers and their videos presentations are available at http://www.environment.harvard. edu/events/video. This lecture and the Future of Energy series is sponsored with generous support from Bank of America. Science & Democracy Lecture Series
Science and Democracy, a series cosponsored with the Harvard Kennedy School Program on Science, Technology, & Society, explores the benefits of scientific/technological breakthroughs and the harmful consequences of inadequately understood developments, brings filmmaker and author Errol Morris to campus on November 29. His talk, “Investigating with a Camera,” will take place at 5:00pm in Piper Auditorium, Gund Hall, 42 Quincy St. Morris’ work tackles questions of truth, objectivity, and knowledge in modern society. Morris will reflect on four of his films, and discuss his new book, “Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photographies.” Hillary Young, Ph.D. ’10 Biology, Stanford University Hillary Young is a community ecologist interested in cascading effects of wildlife decline and land use change, particularly as they affect human health and well-being. Hillary will be continuing the work she started as a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution and Stanford University, examining the effect of declines in large mammals on human disease risk in Africa. With the support of hosts Dr. Charles Nunn (Department of Anthropology) and Dr. Marc Lipsitch (School of Public Health), she hopes to unite field ecology with epidemiology and models of land use change, to explore how loss of large mammals and associated land-use change can trigger an increase in human disease risk via indirect trophic effects of defaunation on small mammals and their ectoparasites.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Energy Materials at Harvard
A group of Harvard faculty members who work in materials science and energy technology have formed a new multidisciplinary Materials for Energy Group. Its aim is to raise the visibility and long-
Pu b l i c a t i o n N o t e F A L L / W I N T E R
2 0 1 1 - 1 2
The Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) encourages research and education about the environment and its many interactions with human society. By connecting scholars and practitioners from different disciplines, the Center seeks to raise the quality of environmental research at Harvard and beyond. Environment @ Harvard is a publication of the Center for the Environment Daniel P. Schrag, Director James I. Clem, Managing Director Kellie M. Corcoran, Communications Coordinator, Designer All portraits by Claudio Cambon unless otherwise noted.
run vitality of materials research with energy applications at Harvard. This semester, the Group brought Dr. Alex Zunger, Chancellor Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder for a talk on “The Inverse Problem in Materials Theory: Given a Target Property, Find the Structure.”
Paleo-Constraints on Sea-Level Rise
This past August, HUCE hosted the annual meeting of the Paleo-Constraints on Sea-Level Rise (PALSEA) working group, which drew scientists from across the globe active in analyzing and modeling sea-level rise, changing oceans, and the cyrosphere. The two-day meeting was filled with discussion of past rapid changes in sea level, including the last glacial and interglacial periods.
Coupled Atmosphere-Biosphere Models as a Tool for Conservation & Environmental Planning and Policy Marcos Costa, Federal University of Viçosa
Professor of Climatology and Environmental Modeling Marcos Costa traveled from his native Brazil to share an overview of coupled atmosphere-biosphere models, and to discuss their application in conservation and environmental policy. Arctic Armageddon? Can Microbial Methane Oxidation Prevent Runaway Methane Release? Williams S. Reeburgh, UC Irvine
Professor of Marine and Terrestrial BiogeoHarvard University Center for the Environment 24 Oxford Street Cambridge, MA 02138 www.environment.harvard.edu
Volume 3, Issue 2
Co m m e n t s Do you have a comment you’d like to share? Send your thoughts to the Center for the Environment at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know if you’d like to continue receiving this newsletter.
chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, William S. Reeburgh is also the editor of the American Geophysical Union journal, Global Biogeochemical Cycles. He visited HUCE to discuss “Arctic Armageddon? Can Microbial Methane Oxidation Prevent Runaway Methane Release?”
New Photos Featured at HUCE In early October, the Center received a mini facelift in the form of a new phototography display. The showcase, which was organized by photographer/writer David Arnold, features “before” and “after” shots of a variety of glacial and underwater landscapes. Earlier photos, many of which were taken before 1960, are juxtaposed with recent images to capture the alarming rate at which climate change is affecting the globe. All recent images were captured by David Arnold. The “before” photos were taken by a variety of prolific artists, including Brad Washburn (glacial images), Jerry Greenberg and James Porter (coral photos). Stop by the Center to check out the new images! We are open at 24 Oxford Street, 3rd Floor in Cambridge, Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.
Volume 3, Issue 2