Empowering Power

Giving people control of their own resources

We are in the middle of a sea change in how electricity is generated, managed, distributed, stored, and consumed. New technologies in electricity generation, such as small-scale wind turbines, wave energy, and micro-harvesting are primed to bring electricity to places on the globe without access to reliable and affordable electricity. These new technologies bring with them opportunities in employment, healthcare, communication, and education. You may think this statement refers to the developing world only, but this description includes places within United States, places where people spend over 50% of their income on electricity costs.

On the other hand, existing affordable and reliable grid infrastructures are experiencing an influx of renewable energy, whose peaks and troughs tax existing technology beyond designed functionality. New storage technologies and electricity uses, such as electric vehicles and battery walls, offer novel relief valves for these ailing systems, but a careful and empathic understanding of the relationship between people and electricity is needed for successful implementation.

The Empowering Power Theme brings together issues of engineering design, product and services design, user and stakeholder empathy-building, systems modeling, and business and policy implications. The design approaches to solve these challenges will be interdisciplinary and high impact by nature.

Work in this area is cutting-edge at Stanford, with resources including the Precourt Energy Institute and the Tomkat Center for Sustainable Energy. The School of Engineering has identified affordable energy as a “Futures” topic to focus research efforts (see the white paper on the topic). A wide variety of courses can be taken as electives relating to this Impact area from across the School of Engineering and beyond. Within Mechanical Engineering, Erin MacDonald and John Dabiri both perform research in this area.

Renewable solar and wind energy and electric vehicles are prolific in the Bay Area. Related companies, large and small, established and start-ups, are numerous in Silicon Valley, offering many possible internship opportunities and industry and public-sector connections.