Three graduate students receive 2019 PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Fellowships

Morgan Kelly ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

Princeton University graduate students Claudia Brunner, Jane Smyth and Emily Wei-Hsin Sun have been awarded 2019 PEI-STEP Graduate Fellowships from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI).

Established in 2000, the PEI-STEP Graduate Fellowship Program provides Princeton Ph.D. candidates in departments outside of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with two years of financial support and a $3,500 award. Recipients explore the environmental policy dimensions and implications of their doctoral research through supplementary coursework and policy oriented research. Upon completion of the program, the students will graduate with a graduate certificate in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP). The program has supported more than 50 fellows.

Descriptions of the projects funded in 2019 are below.

Claudia Brunner, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

PEI-STEP Topic: Offshore Wind Energy in the United States — From Burgeoning Technology to Competitive Market Force?
PEI-STEP Adviser: Alex Glaser, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and International Affairs
Thesis Topic: Unsteady Airfoil Aerodynamics with Applications to Vertical Axis Wind Turbines
Thesis Adviser: Marcus Hultmark, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Brunner will examine the federal policies supporting the establishment and growth of offshore wind energy along the United States’ Atlantic coast, as well as the sector’s potential for success. Her research will focus on the country generally with an in-depth look at New Jersey; two of the 16 federal commercial wind-energy licenses that have been granted are to projects located off the state’s coast. Brunner will investigate whether American offshore wind-energy companies can be sustained without federal subsidies given the low cost of fossil fuels, the intermittency of wind, European dominance of the sector, and the logistical complications of establishing power-generation platforms in the deep waters off the East Coast. She also will look into how local and state governments are positioning themselves to court offshore wind energy and profit from the possible tax revenues and additional jobs.

Jane Smyth, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

PEI-STEP Topic: Assessing Vulnerabilities of the Brazilian Energy System to Projected Changes in the South American Monsoon
PEI-STEP Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute
Thesis Topic: Investigating the Physical Mechanisms of Monsoon Variability with a Hierarchy of Climate Models
Thesis Adviser: Yi Ming, Lecturer in Geosciences

Smyth will study how projected changes to the South American monsoon brought on by climate change could impact Brazil’s hydroelectric output, which generates more than 75% of the country’s electricity. She will use models to determine the impact of reduced rainfall on the flow of the waterways that feed the country’s hydroelectric dams, and how those altered flows affect electricity production and pricing. Her research could provide insight into how climate change could strain energy systems, as well as how nations such as Brazil can develop more sustainable and reliable electricity infrastructures.

Emily Wei-Hsin Sun, Civil and Environmental Engineering

PEI-STEP Topic: Predicting Soil Carbon Flux in Response to Small-Scale Amendments for Integration into Climate Policy Frameworks
PEI-STEP Adviser: Tim Searchinger, Lecturer and Research Scholar in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy
Thesis Topic: Multiphase Flow of Water and Organics Through Mineral Nanopores
Thesis Adviser: Ian Bourg, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute

Sun’s project intersects the areas of climate change and food security. Agriculture ranks as the world’s top carbon emitter. Sun will study how science, economics and policy can harness and incentivize the use of small-scale agricultural lands to help remove carbon from the atmosphere while still providing food for a growing population. She will examine how different types of soil and climates affect soil carbon uptake, as well as investigate how incremental uptake targets for small-scale agriculture affect carbon levels in the atmosphere. In addition, Sun will review existing research on how soil carbon can be used to rejuvenate soil and increase crop yields.