GW Law Launches International Student Energy Research Project

In August, Associate Dean for Environmental Studies Lee Paddock, environmental law fellow Jennifer Bowmar, and six GW Law students launched the first International Student Energy Research Project in Groningen, The Netherlands.

They were joined by six students from the University of Groningen and five students from the Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. After four days of discussion and environmental site visits, the students formed research teams to examine legal and economic issues associated with bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, and linking emissions trading systems. This research work involving students from all three universities on each of the three teams will continue through April 2012 when participants will present their findings in Washington, DC.

Associate Dean Paddock noted that “finding ways to produce affordable energy and make it available throughout the world in a way that is environmentally sustainable is one of the central challenges of the 21st century. Bringing together students from the Europe, Brazil, and the United States to explore common solutions to this global challenge helps them understand the scope of the problems and builds the capacity for creative change.”

Opening discussion focused on the basic energy law systems in the Netherlands, Brazil, and the United States. It became clear that each country represented relied upon a very different energy mix for both electricity needs and vehicle fuels. The students then visited a research facility run by the company KEMA that is developing a smart grid that can allow appliances to run when energy costs are the lowest and store energy from micro-combined heat and energy units. This allows homeowners to store energy at times when electric costs are low and use that energy when demand drives higher prices.

The second day of the program focused on emissions trading programs. The European Union has an advanced system that was based on a successful sulfur dioxide trading system adopted in the United States in 1990. The United States has not enacted a national carbon trading law, while Brazil has recently put a new carbon trading system in place.

The next day, the students focused on bioenergy, examining questions related to the use of corn-derived ethanol in the United States and sugar cane ethanol in Brazil. The group also visited the construction site of a large new coal-fired power plant located in a huge energy park populated by natural gas power plants and wind turbines. In total, this site near the North Sea is expected to host 5,000 megawatts of power production, 150 of which will come from the wind turbines.

The program closed Friday, August 26 with discussions of storing carbon dioxide in deep geological formations as a possible method of dealing with climate change. Geological sequestration is controversial because of its cost and concerns about leakage, although carbon dioxide has been injected for decades to enhance oil recovery. The group visited a large natural gas facility that stores gas deep underground.

After the program’s closing dinner sponsored by the Honours College at the University of Groningen, GW Law student Richard Martinelli reflected on the experience and the work ahead.

"Knowing the perspectives of those in other parts of the world is crucial to understanding international climate and energy issues. My experience with like-minded Dutch and Brazilian students and professors has been an enlightening part of my legal education,” Martinelli said. “I look forward to working with them for the next several months as we research cutting-edge approaches to mitigating the effects of the climate and energy crises."

View other photos from the first International Student Energy Research Project in Groningen.

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