Energy Initiative Plans for Minor Degree, Faculty Hires

The MIT Energy Initiative, officially established in September 2006, has made steady progress, with plans to create a minor degree program in energy and increase energy efficiency within the Institute.

The Initiative, announced by President Susan Hockfield at her inauguration in May 2005, spans all five MIT schools and is a community-wide effort to solve the global energy crisis. Ultimately, the Initiative hopes to use MIT’s rich resource of students, faculty, and tools to turn MIT into a living laboratory in the search for sustainability.

The Energy Council, the faculty group tasked with implementing the goals of the Energy Initiative, is in the process of collaborating with companies, hiring faculty, and sponsoring efforts within the Institute.

MITEI Director Ernest J. Moniz said in an e-mail that he anticipates having at least eight companies with MITEI membership agreements by mid-January. These companies will support research aligned with their company interests and will contribute to the seed fund program, which will grant money to student groups involved with energy.

The Council has yet to hire new faculty, which Moniz described in 2005 as a key part of the original Energy Research Council’s charge. “We will soon start a search process for recruiting several senior faculty in key areas,” Moniz said this month. Faculty hirings are one of the Council’s immediate plans, which will be executed within the academic year, he said.

During January’s Independent Activities Period, the Initiative will have its first external advisory committee meeting, chaired by former Secretary of State George Schulz. The external advisory committee, made up of members of academia, industry, and government, will “provide guidance, advice, and direction” to the Council, according to the November 2006 MIT News Office article announcing its formation.

Also in January, MIT Energy Initiative Week will take place and the year’s first allocations of seed funds and Ignition Awards will be distributed in support of student and faculty energy projects for the spring semester.

Council to create energy minor

According to its vision statement, the energy education task force aims to “educate MIT students so that they can contribute significantly in making a global transition to a more environmentally and economically sustainable and socially responsible energy system.” Specifically, the task force is working to develop a minor degree program in energy.

Biological Engineering Professor Angela M. Belcher, co-chair of the energy education task force, admits that one of their challenges lies within the very nature of the project. “How do you be rigorous about it but then also teach across multiple disciplines and multiple schools?” Belcher said.

As a starting point, a specialized subcommittee is analyzing currently available minors, their requirements, and what various tracks students can follow. This, in addition to a listing of energy courses put online in January 2006 (, will allow the task force to assess how well students in various departments can access energy-related classes. With this information, the task force members will be suited to recommend new courses and faculty hires.

Resources, such as teaching assistants and faculty, are necessary to meet these goals. Belcher acknowledges that paid UROPs are important to students. As a result, the energy education task force is also involved in fundraising.

Working toward energy efficiency

The campus energy task force, co-chaired by Architecture Professor Leon R. Glicksman ’59, is working toward making the campus more energy efficient. The task force, also known as “Walk the Talk” began compiling suggestions last year for retrofits on existing buildings within MIT.

The task force has continued its involvement in the S-Lab (Laboratory for Sustainable Business) course, which collaborates with the MIT Sloan School. Glicksman said one S-Lab group analyzed the retrofit suggestions in terms of carbon emissions, as well as the return on investments, ranking each one.

Roughly $500,000 have been allocated to do some of these projects, Glicksman said. Funds will also be directed towards monitoring the effectiveness of each project. “The hope is that, for the ones which show that they’re successful, we can start larger scale implementation,” Glicksman said.

The task force is also working toward integrating research with its energy conservation efforts. Walk the Talk plans to implement a variety of prototype energy designs in a new building that will then provide results for the basis of a second building. With this plan, the task force hopes to set an example for future construction on the MIT campus.

Ultimately, the campus energy task force hopes to use its progress to encourage members of the MIT community to conserve energy. It will continue to sponsor an inter-dormitory competition on energy efficiency, which Glicksman said showed promising results last year.

Groups benefit from funds, Generator

Granted through the Energy Council and the Walk the Talk task force, the Initiative has allocated seed funds for student groups involved with energy. Biodiesel@MIT in particular has received a $1,000 grant for space renovation to introduce a system that creates biodiesel fuel from grease and used cooking oil on campus.

Glicksman said he predicts some 10 new projects will benefit from seed funds within the year.

Student organizations have also benefitted from the MIT Generator event, sponsored by the Walk the Talk task force. The goal of the event is to bring together various student groups, interested students, and staff and to share ideas and brainstorm.

“It seemed like there were gaps in the mandate of the Energy Initiative,” Generator Coordinator Jason J. Jay G. Therefore, the Generator became a vessel for encouraging “demand-side solutions” for energy.

The Generator will follow with the same sequence of events as last year by hosting a Re-Generator event, planned for February, and an Eco-Expo, planned for around Earth Day.