News Archive:

Q&A With Sam Aarons, ERG Alum and Lyft Sustainability Director

GreenBiz recently caught up with Mike Masserman and ERG’s own Sam Aarons (MS ’07) to discuss their respective roles as the first Head of Social Impact and Director of Sustainability at Lyft. The ride sharing company has been tackling a variety of environmental and social issues in recent months.

“They’re making our commutes easier, which is leading more people to travel by car. From the beginning, Lyft has carved out a reputation for itself as the friendlier of the ride hailers. The company’s interest in social issues has manifested in numerous ways, not least of which involve asking their then-head of global policy & strategy, Mike Masserman, to add social impact to his portfolio, then by naming Sam Arons as the first director of sustainability. In the last year, Lyft has made some big climate impact commitments and accomplished some major milestones. In April, it made all Lyft rides carbon neutral, and in September, extended carbon neutrality to the rest of Lyft’s operations.”

Hear their take on Lyft’s journey through some of these issues here.

ERG PhD Student Kripa Jagannathan Spotlighted for California Outreach

As a graduate student in the UC Cooperative Extension Program, Kripa Jagannathan has the opportunity to supplement her research at ERG with outreach to California farmers and water utilities officials. Her goal is to evaluate the usability of climate science for adaptation planning in agriculture and water management. This week, the Berkeley Food Institute highlighted Kripa’s work, alongside ESPM PhD student Aidee Guzman.

“For Kripa, research and extension are not separate pursuits. Through interviews, focus group discussions, and workshops with California almond farmers and water utilities officials, she set out to understand the types of climate information that practitioners need, and whether current scientific research is meeting those needs. Kripa learned that almond growers have in fact experienced changes in climate over the past few decades, yet current climate projection tools don’t address crop-specific climate information such as future changes in chill hours and frost patterns. After receiving this feedback she started another project to evaluate how well climate models are able to predict chill hours. She is working with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and the California USDA Climate Hub on further research to develop these decision-relevant tools.”

Read the full post here.

Master’s Student Gauthami Penakalapati Connects Sanitation with Mental and Social Well-Being

In her recent review on sanitation and well-being outcomes, Gauthami Penakalapati explores a more holistic definition of “health,” which includes physical, mental and social well-being. She discusses how inadequate sanitation, privacy, and safety can lead to increased mental and social risks, especially for women and girls.

“Public health research on sanitation has focused predominantly on the impact of sanitation on infectious diseases and related sequelae, such as diarrhea and malnutrition. Yet, the WHO defines health not as the absence of disease but as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (WHO, 1948). This holistic definition of health is critical to understanding how sanitation impacts all aspects of health. Studies have increasingly documented how sanitation may influence health beyond disease, particularly for women and girls. Worldwide about 1 in 3 women have experienced gender-based violence (GBV), and studies indicate that inadequate sanitation may put women and girls at greater risk of experiencing violence (WHO, 2013).”

Read the complete review in Social Science & Medicine.

ERG Research Shows Reliability of Independent Solar Power in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nature Energy recently published research by ERG PhD Student Jonathan Lee and Professor Duncan Callaway quantifying the cost of reliability for decentralized solar and battery systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their research finds that falling costs of solar photovoltaics and lithium-ion batteries is enabling decentralized solar plus storage systems to be increasingly cost-competitive with traditional electricity grids in Sub-Saharan Africa at reliability that matches or exceeds traditional grids. They also find a scaling pattern that above 90% reliability, decentralized systems can be designed to have higher reliabilities by increasing the levelized cost of energy by $0.11 / kWh per additional “9” of reliability (i.e. going to 99%, 99.9%, and higher) on average.

Geographic Variation in Levelized Cost of Electricity for Representative Decentralized Solar System

Lee and Callaway have made their model available online with an interactive interface as a research and decision-support tool at

Read the full Nature Energy article here, additional coverage by the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources here, Berkeley News here, and a blog by the authors describing the evolution of the research here.

ERG Students, Faculty and Alumni Encourage You to Vote!

As the November 6, 2018 midterm elections approach, the Energy and Resources Group faculty, students, and alumni are taking action to increase voter participation. We encourage all voices to be heard in our democracy, and invite all to vote to support leaders and policies that lead to a sustainable environment and a just society.


  • Voting for a Just Transition – Dan Kammen: Read Professor and ERG Chair Dan Kammen’s post in the Berkeley Blog on the importance of student participation in this year’s midterm elections.
    • “The clean energy opportunity is aligned with core values — at least those stated on paper — by both the Democratic and Republican parties. Instead of one of the few places for bipartisan action, however, it has become an area where even the most basic facts are endlessly debated… By reaching out to fellow students, parents, and friends both across California and across the country [students can] highlight how doubling down on equitable clean energy projects offers a rare and genuine “win-win” at a time when the country is more divided than ever.”
  • Voter Registration and Canvasing
    • Master’s and PhD students Gordon Bauer and Margaret McCall have been traveling throughout California to canvas for congressional as well as state Senate candidates.
    • Master’s student Sara Mulhauser has been working with the organization California Away Team since 2017 to sign up non-registered voters, and convince registered voters to participate in the midterm elections. “So far we have ‘reactivated’ more than 1,000 voters through this process… we also produce thousands of homemade post cards that we send to more remote voters that we can’t realistically knock on doors. We do this for other important races outside of California.”
  • Empowering Female Voters
    • Master’s/PhD student Gauthami Penakalapati has been involved with the organization Post March Salon since last February. They are active in getting out the vote in the Bay Area and highlighting flippable districts.
  •  Berkeley Campus and Community
    • PhD student Adam Orford has been providing support for the ASUC Graduate Assembly to promote voter participation through student events on the UC Berkeley campus. Orford also co-authored an opinion piece on Berkeley city council policies and their impact on housing prices.
  • Getting Out the Vote – ERG Alumni
    • ERG alumni have been actively canvasing and working with NextGen, an organization that focuses on registering, motivating, and turning out young voters.
    • Richard Norgaard (ERG Professor Emeritus) and Nancy Rader (MS ’92) recently hosted a gathering for a state assembly candidate.
    • Collectively, 17 ERG alumni and faculty wrote and sent over 300 letters and 50 postcards in order to mobilize voters (pictured).












Resources for Voters:

Look into local volunteer opportunities in your community as well.

Continue to check back here for more information. This page will be updated throughout the 2018 election season.

ERG Student Zeke Hausfather Maps Global Warming










“Climate change is often communicated by looking at the global average temperature. But a global average might not mean much to the average person. How the climate is likely to change specifically where people live is, in most cases, a much more important consideration.” – Zeke Hausfather & Rosamund Pearce

ERG PhD Student Zeke Hausfather has been working with Carbon Brief to create a new climate visualization tool, which pinpoints how temperatures have changed in specific regions around the world and how they are predicted to change in the future.

Try out the map and read more about the research here.

Carbon Footprint Map by ERG Alum Chris Jones is Putting Pressure on Bay Area Cities

Earlier this month, the Global Climate Action Summit convened in San Francisco to discuss ambitious climate action targets for global emissions by 2020, setting the stage to reach net zero emissions by midcentury.​​ Chris Jones, ERG alum and lead developer at UC Berkeley’s CoolClimate Network, spoke about his team’s interactive map of the Bay Area, color-coded to show the relative size of neighborhoods’ carbon footprints. Though at first the findings unintentionally caused commotion among Bay Area cities to defend their efforts, Jones believes this could be a powerful side effect. “Cities with higher emissions, this can light a fire under them to do more,” said Jones. He said that there is “peer pressure” between cities, households and businesses as they make commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about the Carbon Footprint Study here.

PhD Student Valeri Vasquez Selected for Women in Science Leadership Initiative

ERG PhD student Valeri Vasquez will be among 95 women representing 28 countries next year for the Homeward Bound leadership program, a ground-breaking leadership initiative which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet. Through workshops, lectures, networking, and excursions, the program aims to foster leadership development, strategic capability, visibility and science communication, and science collaboration among the women selected, as well as among the entities that they represent.

Read the announcement from UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources here.

ERG Alumni Deshmukh, Mileva, and Wu Explore Renewable Alternatives to Mega Hydropower

ERG alumni Ranjit Deshmukh, Ana Mileva, and Grace Wu recently published their research on alternatives to the hydroelectric power Inga III Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The team explores the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of possible renewable energy options, which offer lower economic, social, and environmental risks.

“Given these [environmental and social] shortcomings, developing countries with persistent energy supply shortages and limited access to capital should consider and thoroughly weigh alternatives to the hydropower-expansion paradigm, particularly with regards to economic risk. Recent cost declines for solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind generation technologies (Bischof-Niemz 2015, Wiser and Bolinger 2016) may make these resources economically competitive with new hydropower generation. In this study, we investigate, from a systems perspective, whether wind and solar PV can be cost-effective low-carbon alternatives to new large hydropower projects. Specifically, we examine the case of the 4800 MW Inga 3 hydropower project proposed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).”

The article has been supported by grants from UC Berkeley and the International Rivers organization.

Read the full report here.

Carbon Loopholes: Report by ERG Student Cecilia Springer in New York Times

In an article examining the costs of carbon pollution “outsourcing” this week, The New York Times featured a report co-authored by ERG student Cecilia Springer. The report, The Carbon Loophole in Climate Policy, explains how approximately 25 percent of the world’s carbon emissions are not accounted for in the national emissions reduction targets set by the Paris climate agreement.

“Over the past decade, both the United States and Europe have made major strides in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions at home. That trend is often held up as a sign of progress in the fight against climate change. But those efforts look a lot less impressive once you take trade into account. Many wealthy countries have effectively “outsourced” a big chunk of their carbon pollution overseas, by importing more steel, cement and other goods from factories in China and other places, rather than producing it domestically.

…The report, written with the consulting firm KGM & Associates and ClimateWorks, calls this a “carbon loophole,” since countries rarely scrutinize the carbon footprint of the goods they import.”

For more information, please attend the Buy Clean event at the Global Climate Action Summit or read the full New York Times article.

The report was also featured in The Washington Post, Quartz India, and Marketplace radio show.