Carnegie Mellon University

Prof. Nock with Students

August 18, 2023

At the intersection of energy policy and global development

By Jai Shekhar

Kristen Whitlinger

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) represent two of the most significant climate-focused pieces of legislation to ever come out of the United States federal government. Over a staggering one trillion dollars are set to be injected into bolstering clean energy, revolutionizing infrastructure, and slashing healthcare costs. It's not just about money; it's about saving our world and shaping a sustainable future for generations to come.

How could this actually impact the global community and climate change? That is precisely what a unique course sought to answer during the first half of this past year.

In the spring semester of 2023, 28 students from various departments took part in a course led by Energy Fellow Dr. Destenie Nock from the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at the College of Engineering. This class provided students from diverse academic backgrounds with an opportunity to delve into the ever-evolving landscape of climate-friendly policies and renewable energy. Through interviews with Nock and the teaching assistants, our team at the Scott Institute uncovered the critical details of the class, highlighting its impact on students' learning experiences.

Realizing the relevance of sustainable growth

Students enrolled in the course came from several departments including Civil & Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Policy & Management, and more. They were convinced that learnings from the class would better prepare them to enter a workforce that is now quickly moving towards a more sustainable economy. Their motivation stemmed from a shared interest in understanding and harnessing the potential of these legislative developments.

Throughout the semester, these students engaged in extensive readings, discussions, and analyses of the latest developments in the US energy and climate industry. The class emphasized the impact of the new bills on different industries, with each team focusing on a specific area of interest. Within three weeks, the teams finalized their project ideas, paving the way for semester-long investigations. Projects covered topics such as the impact of the legislation on heating, manufacturing, and the cost of raw materials. The main focus was to analyze the bills' impact on industry growth and its equitable distribution across communities.

Engagement within class mimicked real-world scenarios

To enhance collaboration and communication skills, Nock introduced a game simulating electricity markets. The teams were divided into two buckets, with one representing power generation and the other representing power distribution companies. The game facilitated teamwork and negotiation, as teams struck power supply deals with each other. This interactive exercise aimed to improve communication and decision-making skills, providing valuable experience for future engineers working in collaborative environments. Nock stated, "A lot of people get frustrated because they want to do the perfect thing but the goal is to do better than what you're doing. This is how decision-making can be improved in the energy space." The game not only fostered teamwork but also instilled a sense of continuous improvement in students' approach to decision-making.

Making a continued impact in Pittsburgh and beyond

At the end of the course, each team presented their semester-long projects to a panel of ten advisors, including experts from the Scott Institute, the National Renewable Energy Lab, Pittsburgh Regional Transit, and others. These projects showcased the impact of the legislation on various industries, highlighting growth, equity, and policy analysis. Reflecting on the projects, Nock expressed, "The panel was super impressed with the quality of work showcased. It was a consulting-ish style of assessing a problem, which helped students learn and grow in spaces such as data analysis and understanding uncertainty." The class not only deepened Carnegie Mellon University's collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Lab but also equipped students with essential skills for their future careers.

Students gained a range of soft and hard skills throughout the course. The class aimed to provide a "real-life" experience of how government policies and decision-making processes work in the energy sector. Expert lectures during the semester proved to be valuable learning experiences, expanding students' knowledge and perspectives. The feedback given by the students after the semester included, "The three expert lectures during the semester were very helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of the industry." Another student stated that their, "Writing and presentation skills were particularly improved”, which will be invaluable for future endeavors.

Continuing the Journey in Climate and Energy Studies

Nock’s comments made her a strong advocate for climate and energy education. “For students looking to further explore the field of climate and energy, Carnegie Mellon University offers additional courses”, she stated. Graduate students can consider taking Energy Analysis and Evaluation, a course taught by Nock during the fall semester. Additionally, subjects like Energy in the Developing World provide valuable insights into energy transitions. Students are also encouraged to consider classes in humanities, as they contribute to a well-rounded understanding of the social aspects intertwined with energy challenges.

The class provided students with a valuable opportunity to explore the potential of a green future. Engaging activities, diverse projects, and innovative teaching methods contributed to a transformative learning experience. The projects presented by the teams showcased the impact of climate-friendly legislation on various industries. With Nock's guidance and the university's commitment to research and collaboration, students were equipped with essential skills and knowledge to contribute to shaping a sustainable future.

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