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Monday, July 31, 2017

Wind, solar and green building under study

URI Energy Fellows focus on green energy

Savannah Harik and Max Bliss
Max Bliss is worried that many developing nations have become so dependent on a small number of other countries for their energy needs that they could be exploited or controlled. It’s an issue he wants to address once he graduates from the University of Rhode Island in 2019.

“Energy is extremely important; nothing can operate without it,” said Bliss, a rising junior majoring in civil engineering and Spanish. “For developing countries, my vision is to bring renewables to increase their energy independence.”

The first step toward his goal was becoming a URI Energy Fellow, which has enabled him to spend a year working for Wind Energy Development, a North Kingstown-based company that partners with private landowners to build wind turbines, including at sites in Coventry, North Kingstown and Portsmouth.

“It’s been a really good introduction to the wind industry,” Bliss said. “I’m learning so much every day about the industry and how these systems work and how they can be better designed and better built. It has cemented in me that the energy industry is where I want to end up.”

A resident of Portsmouth, Bliss spends his days assessing potential wind and solar energy sites to determine how much energy could be produced, how nearby shading might affect solar panels, how turbine sounds might affect residents, and other factors that could affect a potential installation.

Bliss is one of eight Energy Fellows working at companies, government agencies and other organizations on a wide variety of energy issues, from renewables and energy efficiency to green building design and energy education. 

Established in 2007, the program meets the growing need for experiential learning opportunities for students interested in addressing real-world energy issues from a sustainability or efficiency perspective.

“Over the course of a full year students complete a strategic blend of classroom and experiential training,” said Kaylyn Keane, who coordinates the program at the URI Extension Outreach Center. 

“Energy Fellows learn key professional and core skills, gain expertise in the clean energy sector and are given real-world opportunities to test and solidify what they have learned.”

Savannah Harik, a rising senior majoring in geology, is a URI Energy Fellow working at Optimal Energy, an energy consulting firm in Providence. 

She is spending her days researching and writing an educational handbook about energy efficiency for one of the firm’s clients, the Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council of Rhode Island, whose members are appointed by the governor to provide oversight to utility-sponsored energy conservation and efficiency programs.

She said she had little knowledge of the energy industry prior to becoming an Energy Fellow, but she applied for the fellowship in an effort to take advantage of every learning opportunity placed before her. And she’s glad she did.

“I had never had any experience with energy policy or anything in that realm, so it’s been really interesting to see how government and energy providers work together,” she said. “It’s been a lot of work, but I now have a good grasp of the issues, so it’s becoming a bit easier for me.”

In addition to her time at Optimal Energy, Harik said she appreciates the additional learning experiences offered by the Energy Fellows program, including professional development workshops, periodic field trips and weekly get-togethers with the other fellows.

“It’s been exciting to learn that a lot of people I’m meeting in the energy industry actually studied geology, so it’s not far-fetched that I could end up working in the energy world,” she said. “Grad school will probably come first, but a career in the energy industry is a possibility.”