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Until Next Time, CEC!

Aug 31 2017

 

Stanford Fellows and Energy Commissioners. Ignacio Mendez is at far right.   California Energy Commission
 

By Ignacio Mendez
B.S. in Chemical Engineering, 2019. (Minor in Computer Science)
Fellow, California Energy Commission

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

Week 9: The departure of fellow interns, the arrival of final due dates, and the ever-present stress about packing remind me of the end of a school year. As the final week of my internship comes to an end, the ambience of the office resembles that of Stanford exactly two months ago, when I packed my bags and moved to Sacramento to work for the California Energy Commission (CEC). And, as is always the case, the moving-out season prompts me to reflect about what I have learned in this journey into the world of energy.

Coming to the CEC, I already knew a lot about the processes and technologies involved in the production, storage, and consumption of energy. On top of that, I had taken a class in the spring about energy in California, in order to familiarize with the policy and legislation that would be pertinent to my work at the commission. Because of this, my expectation for the job was just to apply all this knowledge into whatever tasks I would have to perform.

Little did I know that, for the most part, I would only be working on one big project, and that this task would not only exceed my expectations, but also expand my knowledge in areas like physics, economics, and engineering.

When I arrived to my office, Commissioner Hochschild informed me that I would be working on a benefit study for 5 million electric vehicles (EV) alongside two other interns: Isaac Sevier, who had just finished his M.S. in Atmosphere/Energy at Stanford, and Eesha Khare, who had recently graduated from Harvard with a B.S. in engineering. From there on, doing research with them became part of my daily routine, along with our productive meetings, thought-provoking discussions, and strong teamwork. And, by working on this team project, we had the opportunity to assess how EVs could impact California’s economy and population, as well as the effect they would have on the state’s oil and gas industry, water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and mineral reserves.

In the process of writing this ambitious report, I have gained a better understanding of energy markets and the complexities of our electric grid, from the difficulties of load balancing to the control of reactive power. Likewise, by building cost forecasts and EV penetration models, I have been able to enhance my programming skills and evaluate the different policies that could help California meet its energy and environmental goals.

Carrying out this big project, I have also gained insight into how decision-making works in government. As opposed to academia, the world of policy-making suffers from a pronounced scarcity of time, given that agencies need to deliver effective results as soon as possible in order to improve the lives of millions of people. This time-sensitivity, in turn, changes your mindset when searching for the most thorough and accurate set of data; it trains you to make the best possible decisions with limited information at your disposal. But, concurrently, the time-pressure also invites you to surmount these limitations by cooperating with third parties. And, at the CEC, my supervisors have repeatedly stressed the importance of not pursuing research projects in isolation, but by collaborating with other agencies, scientists, and consultants instead.

Overall, beyond expanding my skills and knowledge, working at the CEC has been a great opportunity for me to meet inspiring leaders across the different public and private organizations that operate in the realm of energy. While working on the EV report, my team and I have been able to discuss our project not only with CEC commissioners, but also with members of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) board of governors, the Air Resource Board (ARB), and the Natural Resources Agency — each one of them offering their unique perspective on the issues that our report should tackle. By visiting other agencies, we were even able to meet the person at CAISO who coined the term “duck curve,” which has been widely adopted to refer to the net load curve as renewables saturate the market.

Reflecting upon all of these experiences, and how much I have learned and accomplished throughout the summer, I look forward to carrying on my studies in chemical engineering and exploring more opportunities in the field of renewable technologies. This internship has certainly given me a sense of direction, and it has laid the groundwork for my future career in the energy sector. For this reason, I am grateful to the Bill Lane Center for allowing me to participate in this meaningful experience. And, to conclude, I want to thank everyone at the CEC who made me have an incredible summer—I look forward to seeing you all soon!

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