Distributed Sensor Networks & Flexible Demand: The increased penetration of uncertain and variable renewable energy presents various resource and operational electric grid challenges 1 . Micro-level (household and small commercial) demand-side grid flexibility could be a cost-effective strategy to integrate high penetrations of wind and solar energy, but literature and field deployments exploring the necessary information and communication technologies (ICTs) are scant. This paper presents an exploratory framework for enabling information driven grid flexibility through the Internet of Things (IoT), and a proof-of-concept wireless sensor gateway (FlexBox) to collect the necessary parameters for adequately monitoring and actuating the micro-level demand-side. In the summer of 2015, thirty sensor gateways were deployed in the city of Managua (Nicaragua) to develop a baseline for a near future small-scale demand response pilot implementation. FlexBox field data has begun shedding light on relationships between ambient temperature and load energy consumption, load and building envelope energy efficiency challenges, latency communication network challenges, and opportunities to engage…

SWITCH Nicaragua: In the next few decades, as it has been in the past, Nicaragua’s ability to fulfill its full economic and development potential will be tightly linked to the availability and efficient use of energy. Quality of life, as well as improvements in industrial and manufacturing efficiency will be equally tied to the provision of high quality energy services. Despite a relatively small population compared to its area (49 people/km2), and strong GDP growth (4.7%/year), the country holds the 129th position in the UN’s HDI, the third lowest position in the Western Hemisphere after Guatemala and Haiti. From 1990-2010 electricity consumption grew at an average of 5.7% per year, with petroleum-based thermal power plants accounting for 66% of the electricity produced in 2011. This heavily petroleum-based electricity matrix placed a significant burden on the economy as the national petroleum bill represented 55% of total export revenue in 2011 and reached as high as 68% in 2007. The combination of increasing electricity demand and high cost of meeting that demand with oil have led to concerted efforts…

Household Water Use in Mexico: In partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank’s Division on Climate Change and Cantaro Azul, an NGO that focuses on drinking water quality issues in rural Mexico, we developed three metrics to estimate the embedded energy and CO2eq emissions in every cubic meter of water used in Mexican households. Our analysis evaluated the embedded energy and CO2eq emissions related to: 1) extracting/collecting, treating, and distributing water to households, 2) the panoply of methods through which Mexicans heat water, and 3) the ubiquitous use of drinking bottled water (Garrafones) throughout the country. We applied a life cycle analysis (LCA) methodology and explicitly modeled the water-energy interactions within each metric. Our results suggest that ‘Garrafones’ carry more than twice the emissions related to heating water, and over 100 times the emissions related to extracting, treating, and distributing household water via distribution systems. Our research is in support of a National program that aims to foster construction of low-carbon, low-income housing through programs such as ‘Ecocasa’. These programs aim to develop eco-standards and baseline performance levels for developers …

Micro-Synchrophasors (u-PMUs) and the sMArT Grid: The sMarT Grid is the joining of two infrastructures, the electrical infrastructure and the intelligence infrastructure. The electrical infrastructure still contains a legacy of our past and includes an often-inadequate distribution and transmission system, power production, network controllers, infrastructure and buildings, and consumers. Intelligence infrastructure is that which allows for better control, service, and optimization of the entire system. Historically, with mostly radial power distribution and one-way power flow, it was only necessary to evaluate the envelope of design conditions, e.g., peak loads or fault currents, rather than continually observe the operating state. But the growth of distributed energy resources have introduced variability, uncertainty, and opportunities to recruit, observe, understand and manage these diverse resources for grid services. The proposed μ PMU builds on an existing commercial platform by power standards labs (PSL) called the PQube, a high resolution power disturbance recorder capable both of storing and analyzing data locally and of communicating live. The key innovation is extremely precise time-stamping of measurements…

The Fulbright Nexus Experience: The 2013 Fulbright Regional Network for Applied Research (Fulbright NEXUS) brought together 20 junior scholars, professionals and mid-career applied researchers from the United States (5) and Latin America and the Caribbean (15), to develop individual and group research collaborations through three seminar meetings in Banff (Canada), Medellin (Colombia), and Washington D.C (US). Individual research projects ranged from understanding the impacts of climate change and variability on bean yields in Nicaragua, to developing vulnerability and adaptation assessments and strategies for eco-tourism ventures in the High-Andes, to enhancing public participation to urban flood risks in Mexico City. Overall, individual projects spanned many ecosystems, from high Andean mountain ranges, to Caribbean reefs and Amazonian rainforests, to deserts and urban agglomerations. Despite the incredible depth and diversity of our individual projects, our three group projects highlight the true success of the Fulbright NEXUS experience: Our ‘Map of Stories’ group …

Hydrogeology, Agriculture, and Energy Dynamics: With India being the largest consumer of groundwater in the world, it is expected that with current extraction rates sixty percent of its aquifers will be in critical condition in twenty years. In Punjab and Telangana, the electricity subsidy provided to agriculture accounts for over forty and fifty percent of the annual government budget deficits respectively, with groundwater extractions being some of the largest and costliest in the world. Although groundwater irrigation indeed buffers these dry environments, the unsustainable exploitation of the resource can also result in anthropogenic climate change, groundwater scarcity and stress, and a modification to the hydrologic system and the agricultural economy. To date, there are few studies that have explored the widespread economic effects to adapting and thriving in an uncertain and changing environment. Hard water and soft water approaches are promoted vividly in the policy arena, but little has been done to understand the dynamics and interlinkages between an uncertain climate, human activity, and the economy in which all production and activity is reflected. Certainly, no good policy can come without understanding…

Willingness to Pay & Clean Water Distribution In partnership with the Dominican Sisters in Guaimaca the Engineers Without Borders (EWB-Boston) Professional Chapter is working to improve the quality and quantity of potable water for three small towns on the outskirts of Guiamaca (Honduras) called La Calona, Maraquito and Aguacatillo, Since 2008 EWB-Boston has completed over five assessment/implementation trips to Honduras. During these visits, we’ve held a variety of meetings with community leaders, learned the region’s politics and demographics, collected water resource and socioeconomic data, and more recently performed a willingness to pay (WTP) study. EWB-Boston is currently working on the design and implementation of a water distribution and financial system that among other things seeks to also reduce tension between neighboring villages. By ensuring a more reliable supply of water, increasing communication, and allowing water boards to decide how to manage their old and new distribution system, EWB is hoping to increase the system’s reliability. The results from our WTP study, however, make us question the approach towards the small-scale development type projects being developed in the region…

Low-Tech & High-Impact Sustainable Development Since 2007, Engineers Without Borders at the University of Minnesota has been collaborating with Hope Integrated Academy (HOPE) and the Uganda Rural Fund to bring high quality-reliability water and sanitation services to HOPE. In it’s sixth year of collaboration with URF – the EWB-UMN team has implemented V design and implementation projects. Phases I and II involved a buffered rainwater/groundwater (solar pumped) distribution system (collection, storage and distribution) and a dry composting eco-sanitation system with hand washing facilities. Phase III (2010) distributed and installed improved stoves (45 households) collecting particle, temperature, and carbon monoxide data, and installed several pilot micro-irrigation kits in the neighboring village of Mulobere. All implementations involved education and capacity building workshops with the households and communities. Phase IV designed and built two concrete masonry block tanks with a storage capacity of >100,000 liters of fresh water – enough for two dry seasons, and Phase V (currently underway) will implement community and household level rainwater harvesting systems in the neighboring community of Bugonzi. Although many design and implementation mistakes were made …

Men and Women in micro-Lending Groups? Although it was a brief stint with Grameen Trust Chiapas and Innovations for Poverty Action back in 2003 and 2004, performing interviews, developing descriptive statistics, and many other reports, the work I was doing regarding their client base helped develop the background of a pioneering study in microfinance that would investigate the impact (positive and negative) of inviting men into previously women-only microlending groups in Chiapas. It was also my first ‘formal’ development type research experience and project. The project intended to shed light on the notion of ‘women empowerment in microfinance’, and focused on the growing concern that women are increasingly suffering from increased intrahousehold conflict as a result of microlending/borrowing programs. As IPA focuses on the design and implementation of randomized controlled trials, the ‘experiment’ allowed women to invite their husbands into their borrowing group. Only 4.4% of women agreed to invite their husbands into their lending group. The results suggest that inviting husbands to join as borrowers entails a tradeoff between reducing household frictions on the one hand and a loss of autonomy over borrowing decisions on the other …