Out West student blog

Facing the Heat

Weekly coffee chat with the Liqian's team at the City of Palo Alto Utility. (Photo credit: Liqian Zhang)

By Liqian Zhang, MS '21
Hometown: Shaanxi, China
Environmental Engineering
Graduate Intern, City of Palo Alto Utility

This summer, I worked at the City of Palo Alto Utility (CPAU) and studied the energy system in California and Palo Alto. My mentor, Lena Perkins, spent a lot of time helping me understand the electricity market system and build my project. Besides this, the utility organized several coffee chats for us, which provided me with a great opportunity to know more about the energy industry. My favorite coffee chat was with Scott, a current analyst at CPAU who built his startup making circuit boards, then devoted himself to the clean energy volunteer work, and ended at CPAU, the clean energy group. He shared his experience at different industries and his feelings towards energy projects, from which I learned the expectations of various positions and found myself interested in consulting.

During late August, California was facing extreme heat with temperatures over 100F. It was the most challenging time for me to work. As there was no air conditioning in the dorm, I had to turn my fan on for almost 24 hours a day, but still could hardly get enough sleep, leaving myself sleepy the following day. And it was almost the end of the project--the stress along with the tiredness made me fretful and scatterbrained. I was lucky that Lena provided me a lot of support during that time and we were able to finish the project by the end of the internship.

The extreme heat in California these days created much trouble for not only our work efficiency, but also the CAISO (California Independent System Operator). Because of the sudden increasing usage of air conditioning, we're experiencing the peak load, which brings value to my project this summer: lowering the utility load peak by re-distributing the electricity usage pattern. Through this experience, I acknowledged that my project is not only a high-level analysis but a feasible project to work on, and one that will benefit the grid system as a whole.

Lastly, I couldn't be more appreciative of the SEICW program providing the opportunity for me to work at the CPAU, through which I found my value in the industry. I'm looking forward to the day when I enter the industry and contribute to making the energy system better.

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