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A Postcard From the Future

Aug 9 2017


Image: A typical day at the Energy Commission. (Left: Eesha Khare, Harvard University. Right: Ignacio Mendez, Stanford University)
  Anthony Ho, Stanford University
 

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

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

Our century is marked by great challenges on many different fronts. And, because we live in conditions of interdependence, we have to make compromises between conflicting strategies in order to face those challenges effectively. But in order to thrive as a society, we can only afford to disagree about the means we employ if we at least agree on the ends for which we employ them. That is, whatever actions we take as a group, we must never lose sight of the common goals for which we take them: to preserve our life, to secure our liberty, and to optimize our wellbeing and happiness.

Today, the challenge of climate change threatens all three of those goals. But, unfortunately, the policies of the federal government show that the political disagreement goes beyond just the employment of means, which include investing in the coal industry, cutting funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and omitting the use of renewables from the “America First” energy plan.

My name is Ignacio Mendez, and I am a rising junior majoring in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. This summer, I am working at the California Energy Commission (CEC) — California’s primary energy policy and planning agency — in the office of Commissioner David Hochschild.

At the CEC, I have two main projects on which I have been working for the past six weeks. The first one entails writing a report that analyzes the impact of having 5 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road within the next decade, quantifying the benefits that these EVs could bring to California’s grid, economy, and population. My other project involves assisting Emilio Camacho, Chief of Staff to Commissioner Hochschild, on the implementation of the Under2MOU with Mexico, which aims at limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by promoting cooperation between subnational entities.

Given that I am majoring in a technical field, where the conversation often focuses on costs and feasibility, working on energy policy has exposed me to a different way of thinking about technology: one that centers on its tangible impact on other people’s lives. Because of that, this summer has been a great opportunity for me to learn how energy policy combines technological progress with moral progress, making sure that energy solutions work for all Californians, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Unlike other states, California is not worried about whether or not most of its electricity will come from renewables in the future; California knows it will. Instead, the state worries about how to implement all of these new ideas — from Community Solar to 5 million EVs — in a way that will benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities as much as it will benefit their counterparts. For the Golden State, it is a matter of how, not if. And as CNN describes it, the current challenge is not just technological, but also whether “our government [will] take full advantage of the breakthroughs that our engineers have produced” in order to preserve the general wellbeing.

This summer has been a great opportunity for me to learn how energy policy combines technological progress with moral progress, making sure that energy solutions work for all Californians, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

For this reason, climate change has become the ultimate test for the marriage between innovation and policy. Luckily, I have witnessed throughout my internship the determination of the state of California to go beyond the stance of the federal government and remain committed to the fight against climate change. Not only have I seen this at the CEC, but also at the State Legislature, the Air Resources Board (ARB), and the Governor’s Office.

If you walk around the Energy Commission, you will most likely see the word “energy” next to the words renewable, efficiency, or savings. If you go inside the legislature, it will be difficult for you not to hear about Cap and Trade, the 100% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), and the California Electric Vehicle Initiative. And if you see people adhering to the rhetoric of walls, you might as well watch California build bridges with other countries by signing memorandums and organizing energy trade missions. At a time when the US withdraws from climate agreements, California continues to promote global collective action through its Under2MOU, which was signed before the Paris Climate Accords and whose signatories represents 1.2 billion people and 39% of the world economy.

Just as Emilio Camacho likes to put it, California offers the world “a postcard from the future.”

If we trust Ernest Renan, the foundations of our society are not a common race, language, religion, or geography, but rather our “desire to live together [and] to continue to invest in the heritage that we have jointly received.” And that is exactly what California is doing: investing in our planet by promoting a greener and more equitable world, turning challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation. For this reason, I am grateful for the opportunity to work in the Energy Commission, and look forward to finishing my projects and have final results to present in my second blog post.

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