By Molly A. Seltzer
Community Energy, a national renewable energy developer, has joined Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership, the corporate membership program of the Andlinger Center. The company, which has built solar and wind farms from New Jersey to the Rocky Mountains, is a leader in clean power development and is the first renewable energy developer to join E-ffiliates. Community Energy is partnering on a system-wide resource plan for scaling up carbon-free power over the next decade, leaning on the research of Jesse Jenkins, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center, and the center’s Energy Systems Analysis Group for its research on electric markets and energy transitions.
Brent Alderfer, co-founder and CEO of Community Energy, noted that a “whole new solid-state grid” needs to be built, and that the Andlinger Center’s research is unique in its abilities to combine fundamental scientific research and practical outcomes.
“The Andlinger Center is a perfect bridge between academic and policy studies, and utility developers and investors, to help make the energy transition happen and happen in a way that’s economical and environmentally beneficial,” Alderfer said.
In the first research project funded by Community Energy a team led by Jenkins seeks to develop a technical blueprint for rapid and affordable emissions reductions to the grid, while ensuring reliable and secure electricity supplies. The work will focus on the PJM system, the grid that controls electricity flows for all or part of 13 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.
“We are thrilled to partner with Community Energy and investigate questions that the industry faces on the national energy transition. The partnership exemplifies how the Andlinger Center translates new knowledge to be useful for practitioners” said Barry Rand, associate director for external partnerships at the Andlinger Center and associate professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
Community Energy has been developing wind and solar farms for over 20 years, supporting the carbon reduction efforts of companies and municipalities including Amazon, Facebook, Xcel Energy, Georgia Power, and the City of Philadelphia. The company will offer the researchers insights and data on the challenges of deploying wind and solar. Jenkins said Community Energy will be good a partner because the company can provide input on important tradeoffs in renewable energy development, such as dedicating more land to solar installations rather than using it for other public benefits like agriculture. This knowledge will help the researchers develop computer models of the grid that are more realistic, and help produce more feasible results. One possible outcome is that the research may identify the most promising locations for renewable energy development within the Mid-Atlantic region. Alderfer said that there is little research that has outlined how a transition could actually play out for a particular region at the specificity necessary to make investments. One key issue not yet adequately addressed is how the presence of nuclear power or intensive development of gas-fired electricity plants in a given region will affect the feasibility or economic security of deploying new renewable generation and storage projects there.
The second phase of work will assess and identify key policies that will be important to ensure efficient use of power resources. Princeton University is the first university with whom the company has formally partnered. Community Energy had attended meetings and workshops at the Andlinger Center prior to becoming an E-ffiliates member.
“Cross-sector partnerships accelerate the uptake of advances and facilitate change on a larger scale. We are thrilled to work with Community Energy to address real challenges the renewable energy industry faces and answer critical questions that will help it thrive,” said Rand.
E-ffiliates is a membership-based program, offering corporations a unique opportunity to engage in big-picture thinking and to find innovative solutions in energy and the environment. Member companies engage in close collaborations with academic experts to pursue transformational innovations. To date, E-ffiliates members have contributed funding to projects involving 70 faculty members, researchers, and students. Other member companies are from the power, water, and telecommunications industries, and include ExxonMobil, PSEG, American Tower, and American Water. Since the program’s establishment in 2011, E-ffiliates members have participated in and supported the convening of government, industry, and academic stakeholders through workshops, retreats, and conferences organized by the Andlinger Center.