News Archive:

Noah Kittner and Dan Kammen Argue for Solar and Wind Over Hydropower in Nature Article

Recent ERG alum Noah Kittner (MS ’15, PhD ’18) and professor Dan Kammen, along with Stanford postdoc Rafael Schmitt and UC Berkeley professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Matt Kondolf, published an article this week in Nature. They argue that solar and wind energies are key to maintaining both environmental and human health in river basins around the world.

The authors cite declining costs and improving efficiency of solar, wind, and battery storage technologies as to why their implementation would be both more viable and sustainable than previously proposed hydropower options.

“As more streams are dammed, less sediment reaches the coast and river channels and banks erode, the report states. “Lower river levels allow salt water to intrude into coastal aquifers, diminishing supplies of fresh water. Human health can be affected. For example, across Africa, incidences of the parasitic disease schistosomiasis are rising as dams interrupt the migration of prawns that feed on the parasite’s host, water snails.”

The Nature report’s release coincided with the May 14-16 World Hydropower Congress meeting. Kammen comments, “With the World Hydropower Congress meeting now, members of this important industry group could take action to ensure that all proposed dams recognize and act on this new world of clean and non-destructive energy options.”

The full report from Nature may be read here, along with coverage from the College of Natural Resources.

New ERG Course: Data, Environment and Society

Data, Environment and Society (ENERES 131)
Professor Duncan Callaway

Lecture (#33105) TT 9:30 – 11am
Labs (#33106) M 10am – 12pm or (#33276) W 10am – 12pm

This course will teach students to build, estimate and interpret models that describe phenomena in the broad area of energy and environmental decision-making. Students leave the course as both critical consumers and responsible producers of data-driven analysis.

The effort will be divided between (i) learning a suite of data-driven modeling and prediction tools (including linear model selection methods, classification and regression trees and support vector machines) (ii) building the programming and computing expertise to use those tools and (iii) developing the ability to formulate and answer resource allocation questions within energy and environment contexts.

We will work in Python in this course, and students must have taken Data 8 before enrolling. The course is designed to complement and reinforce Berkeley’s “data science” curriculum.

Required Prerequisites: Foundations of Data Science (Computer Science C8/Information Systems C8/ Statistics C8) and college calculus.

Recommended Preparation: An introductory computer programming course (Computer Science 61A or Computer Science 88) and Linear Algebra (Mathematics 54, Electrical Engineering 16A, or Statistics 89A).

PhD Candidate Laura Moreno Comments on Food Waste in National Geographic

PhD candidate Laura Moreno, ERG’s resident food waste expert, is featured in an article published by National Geographic this week.

Moreno’s research focuses on why household waste is generated, how much, and from what combination of cultural and systemic factors. In the article, she draws on examples of concerns and subtle behavioral habits that contribute to food waste from households she has studied during her PhD research. In addition to perceptions and patterns that exist at the scale of a household or individual, Moreno also discusses the greater systematic factors that influence the proliferation of food waste, like the manner in which food is labeled, presented, and sold.

“Just because food is wasted in a household doesn’t mean it’s caused by that individual person,” Moreno says. “There are a lot of factors at play.”

Read the full article on National Geographic’s website here.

Isha Ray and Chris Hyun Analyze Issues with Water Access Alerts in Bangalore

A recent article from UC Berkeley’s Blum Center considers the lessons learned from the trial run of Next drop, an application intended to help residents of Bangalore, India optimize their time dedicated towards collecting water. NextDrop was designed to alert households in Bangalore when they should expect to receive water, based off of real-time data input by valvemen – public works employees tasked with the physical regulation of water flow. Due to the unpredictability of water deliverance to homes and businesses, it is reported that most households lose up to a week of time per year simply waiting for water.

However, valvemen were found to have only input data 70% of the time, while the alerts that were produced were only accurate 37% of the time. ERG faculty Isha Ray and PhD candidate Chris Hyun, along with ERG affiliate Allison Post of the Department of Political Science, conducted two studies analyzing why NextDrop’s performance was poorer than expected. The first study, led by political science PhD candidate Tanu Kumar, developed a nodal framework to describe the key points in the communication flow from the valvemen to households where alert viability could break down. The other study, led by Hyun, analyzed the responsibilities and program compliance of the valvemen, and came to the primary confusion that they were often too burdened with other tasks to report accurately report water flow timing. Post and Ray were co-authors on both studies.

The original article from the Blum Center can be read here.

Alum Chris Jones Featured on Berkeley Talks Podcast

As part of April’s Cool Campus Challenge, ERG alumnus Chris Jones (MS ’05, PhD ’14), now director of the CoolClimate Network, sat down with student reporters from the Goldman School of Public Policy to discuss the CoolClimate Calculator. The CoolClimate Calculator is an online tool developed by the Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory that allows users to calculate their carbon footprint and provides input on how to reduce their emissions based off of the data they input.

Listen to the podcast here.

Professor John Harte and Alumnus Scott Saleska Elected as Ecological Society of America Fellows

ERG Professor of the Graduate School John Harte and alumnus Scott Saleska (PhD ’98), now a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, have been announced as Ecological Society of America (ESA) 2019 Fellows for their outstanding contributions to the ecological sciences. The ESA Fellows program was established in 2012 and members are elected for life.

Among the other 2019 Fellows, Harte and Saleska are joined by ESPM Professor and ERG affiliate Steven Beissinger and this year’s ERG Annual Lecture speaker Professor Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University.

Read more about this year’s ESA Fellows and their contributions to the field of ecology here.

Coverage from CNR can be read here.

ERG PhD Student Nancy Freitas Wins Berkeley Grad Slam Competition

Nancy Freitas, an ERG PhD student, is the 2019 Berkeley Grad Slam winner for her 3-minute presentation “Microbes in the Arctic.”

Grad Slam is a UC-sponsored competitive speaking event designed to showcase graduate student research in three-minute talks pitched to a general audience. This is a unique opportunity for graduate students who are engaged in substantive original research projects to develop skills communicating their academic research — while making their work visible to academic, media, and private and public sector leaders from across the state.

The UC-wide event will be hosted by President Janet Napolitano at LinkedIn headquarters in San Francisco on May 10, 2019.

More about Grad Slam here.

Kammen and Senator Wiener: For America’s cities, housing policy is climate policy

March 25, 2019 By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations

In an op-ed today in the New York Times, professor Dan Kammen and state Senator Scott Wiener are blunt: “To solve the climate crisis, we have to solve the housing crisis.”

Noting California’s lead in addressing climate change, the two warn that the state’s progress is slowing because of a stubborn roadblock: emissions from the greenhouse-gas spewing cars and trucks are going up.

The solution, they say, is denser housing around transportation and work hubs to cut the number of vehicles on the road. Wiener has introduced a controversial bill in the California legislature — Senate Bill 50, the More HOMES Act — that would override local restrictive zoning by legalizing small to mid-size apartment buildings up to five stories near job centers and near public transportation.

“Specifically, we need to make it easier for people to live near where they work and near public transportation, and that means actually allowing housing to be built in and near our job centers and near transit,” they write. “California’s current system of allowing cities to systematically restrict or ban new housing where the jobs and transit are located — via restrictive zoning and impossible approval processes — leads to sprawl, crushing commutes, and increased carbon emissions.”

Wiener and Kammen promote the bill as a roadmap for other cities and states as they attempt to reduce pollution and climate-altering emissions. Governor Gavin Newsom seems to be onboard: his proposed budget would penalize cities that don’t meet housing targets with loss of state transportation revenues.

“If we can build more momentum for more homes near where people work and access transit, we can continue to reduce carbon emissions, in California and around the country, and make sure our progress continues apace,” they conclude.

Read the New York Times op-ed: Why Housing Policy Is Climate Policy.

Further coverage of the article can be read here:

Berkeley Blog


Two ERG Alumni Named Top 50 Green Innovators and Influencers by Grist Magazine

Sam Arons (MS ’07) and Joshua Apte (PhD ’13) were named as the 2019 “Grist 50” — a list of the most innovative and influential leaders in sustainability. Grist is an online environmental magazine and annually releases a list of high achieving “world fixers”.

As the director of sustainability at Lyft, Arons is working toward making Lyft fully carbon neutral and 100% reliant on renewable energy sources. Apte is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and uses methods from environmental engineering, aerosol science, exposure assessment, and environmental health to study human exposure to air pollution in urban environments.

The original Grist article may be read here.

Alumna Laura Schewel Talks Transportation Analytics in ITS International

The January/February 2019 edition of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) International features an interview with ERG alumna Laura Schewel (MS ’11). Schewel is the CEO of Streetlight Data, a transportation analytics company she founded while at ERG. Streetlight Data uses anonymous cellular and GPS navigation data to study transportation patterns and develops analytical software to be used by municipal and regional planning authorities, as well as private companies and firms.

Schewel discusses how Streetlight Data fits into the planning process, emphasizing the need to educate decision-makers and ensure solutions are not only well-informed and comprehensive, but politically realistic. The company recently incorporated pedestrian and cyclist analytics into their flagship Streetlight Insight platform. On this new addition, Schewel comments, “My hope is that by being able to measure bikes and pedestrians, we can manage towards a future where these modes of travel are more prevalent.”

The full ITS International article can be read here.