Read about our current projects below, or browse our archive of past projects.
In an effort to support the economic health and viability of farms while also promoting their transition to renewable energy, the Institute for Energy and the Environment teamed up with the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) at Vermont Law School to create the Farm and Energy Initiative (FEI). Directed by Assistant Professor and Staff Attorney Genevieve Byrne, the FEI researches energy strategies that improve efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and integrate the production of renewable energy like solar power into farming practices. In 2020 the FEI team launched a website (farmandenergyinitiative.org) that serves as an open-access resource for farmers, researchers, and policymakers to promote sustainable energy use in agriculture. The site includes resources related to three FEI projects: the Farmland Solar Policy Project, which helps policymakers balance the need for renewable energy with farmland preservation; the Biogas and Organic Waste Management Project, which promotes the economically viable and sustainable use of anaerobic digestion in agriculture; and the Healthy Soils Law Project, which helps state governments develop state policies supporting environmental stewardship in agriculture. The project is directed by Staff Attorney and Assistant Professor Genevieve Byrne, and funded with a grant from the National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
RENEWABLE ENERGY INTEGRATION, DECARBONIZATION, AND POWER-TO-GAS
The aim of this project is to examine the legal and policy issues as well as the potentials for deploying emerging technologies such as power-to-gas as a means of efficiently integrating renewables and low-carbon energy sources in the evolving energy supply industry. Over the course of the past century, the conventional and systemic approach to accessing and delivering energy has been to (i) generate electric energy from primary sources such as water running through an hydro-dam, coal, natural gas and nuclear; (ii) transmitting the energy through high voltage wires, substations, transformers and other network facilities; (iii) distribution via local networks to various classes of consumers e.g. commercial, industrial, and residential. The industry evolved from a few vertically-integrated energy utilities towards more or less open and competitive markets governed based on contracts, rules, integrated resource plans, policy guidelines etc. mostly with the aim of ensuring reliability, affordability, just and reasonable returns to investors as well as security of supply. However, growing concerns about sustainability and environmental impacts, as well as the drive to reduce energy-related carbon emissions, promote zero and low-carbon sources, changing consumer preferences among other things has led to the growth in renewables such as solar and wind energy over the past decade. The trend has also led to a less centralized and more distributed energy market design. The falling costs of renewables such as wind and solar are also key in the unfolding energy market transitions. This project is lead by Dr. Tade Oyewunmi.
The transportation sector is now the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, emitting more carbon dioxide than even the power sector. The electrification of transportation—personal vehicles, mass transit, heavy-duty vehicles, and other forms—will play a major role in reducing emissions and combating climate change, as well as cleaning up harmful air pollution.
The Clean Transportation Team at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School is working on accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. As this transition is underway, policymakers at all levels of government are wrestling with critical questions and challenges: What can cities and towns do to help be prepared for the market shift to EVs? How can cities replace dirty diesel buses with zero emission vehicles? How do we incentivize smart charging behavior that benefits the grid and all electric customers? And most of all: How do we get more drivers to plug in?
Our researchers are working to address a number of these questions.
Climate justice attempts to bring attention to the ethical and justice issues surrounding climate change. The impact goes far beyond environmental risk and degradation to people and so must our solutions. Climate justice issues exist on a global scale, a national scale and a regional scale, each level facing widely different challenges.
Here at the Institute for Energy and the Environment we are currently looking at climate justice issues on a regional scale throughout New England. The IEE and the Energy Clinic seek to understand the regulatory, market and policy dynamics of sustainable energy in New England. Building on this, we are developing models that benefit lower income populations by tackling barriers so that those carrying the highest energy burden receive access to the same cost savings measures of efficiency and renewables that benefit their wealthier neighbors.
Our campus sustainability plan project provides staff support to the VLS Campus Sustainability Committee. On November 26th, 2012 Vermont Law School's President and Dean signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. As a signatory of this commitment, Vermont Law School is now taking necessary steps to implement a comprehensive plan towards climate neutrality. To develop this plan, VLS has established a Campus Sustainability Committee and retained the Institute for Energy and the Environment to assist the committee in developing and implementing the Law School’s Campus Sustainability Plan. In addition to providing support to the committee an IEE faculty member and a student research associate are members of the committee, along with representatives from Buildings and Grounds, the Campus Greening Committee, and the Office for Institutional Advancement. The committee has developed procedures for the VLS Green Revolving Loan Fund and approved building efficiency, solar energy, and electric vehicle charging projects which are all at various stages of implementation.
In the Fall of 2014, the Institute for Energy and the Environment launched its new Energy Clinic, which introduces students to the practical aspects of real world energy projects. The clinic provides services to community groups interested in promoting local ownership of clean energy resources. From the stage of project conceptualization to construction, students are responsible for drafting, reviewing, and explaining project related agreements, manuals, statutes, regulations, local ordinances, and tax codes to assist the development of community energy projects. The Energy Clinic represents a unique opportunity to participate in meaningful sustainable energy transactions. Recently the Energy Clinic teams are assisting clients on community solar and micro hydro development, planning for anaerobic biodigesters to generate energy from farm and food waste, low income access to solar ownership, and energy efficiency assessment and implemenation. More information on this project is available from the Energy Clinic.
The Energy Security and Justice Program investigates how to provide ethical access to energy services and minimize the injustice of current patterns of energy production and use. It explores how to equitably provide available, affordable, reliable, efficient, environmentally benign, proactively governed and socially acceptable energy services to households and consumers. One track of the program focuses on lack of access to electricity and reliance on traditional biomass fuels for cooking in the developing world. Another track analyzes the moral implications of existing energy policies and proposals, with an emphasis on the production and distribution of negative energy externalities and the impacts of energy use on the environment and social welfare. Recently, the team co-authored the introductory chapter titled Energy, Poverty, and Development: A Global Review for a multi-volume book.
With a grant for the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative, the IEE SunShot Plug-and-Play team, in collaboration with Fraunhofer U.S.A.'s Center for Sustainable Energy and 12 other partners, is working to develop a cost effective market-ready plug-and-play residential rooftop solar system. While the average installed price of solar has more than halved since 2010 to $3/watt (W), the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative aims to halve that cost again, targeting $1.50/W installed cost for residential PV systems to make solar energy a truly viable option for the average American home. The SunShot Plug-and-Play project aims to make the $1.50/W target a reality within three years. Because it is designed to be easier and safer to install, much like plugging in an appliance, and will automatically connect to the local utility through smart microelectronic devices, the plug-and-play system is expected to dramatically reduce the installation, inspection, and permitting costs for small residential PV. The IEE SunShot Plug-and-Play team has conducted comprehensive research into the codes and standards (structural, electrical, and procedural) governing residential rooftop solar installations in the United States. It has identified various regulatory barriers to the Plug-and-Play concept, and continues to identify both technical and regulatory solutions to those barriers. The team will also help to develop a voluntary industry standard and advise the wider team on regulatory and policy concerns arising throughout the project.
The IEE's Biomass Energy Policy team has published two major reports recently. The most recent report, "On-Farm Biodiesel Production in Vermont: Legal and Regulatory Overview," reviews all Vermont state and federal regulations related to on-farm biodiesel production. Commissioned by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the report aims to inform farmers about the potential laws and regulations surrounding on-farm biodiesel production.
In another report, The Biomass Energy Policy Team evaluated the need for additional state and regional policies and standards to promote a sustainable market structure for woody biomass in Vermont. Considering literature and legislation from the United States, Canada, and Europe, the IEE team looked into the main concerns and obstacles to incentivizing the use of woody biomass. The following questions were addressed: What would a sustainable biomass market structure look like? How efficient are Vermont's legal, regulatory, and monitoring tools for evaluating and responding to the cumulative impacts on forests that an increase in the woody biomass market would create? What improvements should be made to the legal, regulatory, and monitoring tools in Vermont to provide a sustainable market?
Data and energy, energy and data: In the 21st century, you cannot have one without the other. Advances in computing power and data collection are transforming the energy industry. Electric utilities collect and process billions of data points on how energy is consumed and generated. With the click of a mouse, energy data can be accessed and analyzed. And with increased collection and access, privacy concerns are on the rise.
Led by the Institute’s Mark James, the Data Privacy team is tackling some of the issues arising from increased access to energy data. From streamlining the flow of home energy efficiency ratings into Multiple Listing Services to enhancing the delivery of low-income energy efficiency programs, the team is working to understand and resolve privacy laws and regulations. By building systems that facilitate the movement of data while simultaneously protecting privacy rights, VLS is helping move the energy field into the 21st century.