UWM Researchers Confident World Will Continue Moving in Direction of Paris Accord

Jun 5, 2017

Last week, while President Trump was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, researchers at UWM were busy working on GRAPES, or Grid-connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems. Faculty and students in electrical engineering won a national grant to find ways to improve the power grid, including, by adding renewable resources, and they don't believe the president's decision will impact their work in the long run.

The UWM lab is filled with batteries and gauges and computers, and other items a novice could not identify - a lithium ion battery here, a Ultracapacitor there.

Professor Adel Nasiri, who studies and teaches electrical engineering, says his students research ways of adding new energy sources to the power grid, such as wind and solar power.

Adel Nasiri standing near a large lithium battery in the lab.
Credit Marge Pitrof

"Renewable energy, you have to pay attention more to the controls. They are not as controllable as typical resources are, so they need more research, so we can utilize them, and of course it has a really significant impact when it is deployed in the utility grid to lower carbon emissions, be cleaner and so many things," says Nasiri.

Now that President Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord and signaled he will not clamp down on emissions, what does that new direction mean for Nasiri’s energy lab?

"From one point of view, that has significant impact on our work, because a large majority of research is being supported by federal agencies. So if that support is not there, of course, we are not going to be able to do a lot of research. As I see it, and as I understand it, I don’t believe any of our industrial partners are going to follow that suit, because that is the direction the world is going. So, it’s not like we can stand still," says Nasiri.

What is the morale among the students?

"I don’t believe that the US pulling out from (the) Paris Accord is impacting their morale or my morale. There is a huge demand for students. This is something that is penetrating every industry- energy efficiency, energy generation, energy conversion," says Nasiri.

We asked a few students in the energy lab. What do they think about the future of the field they’re pursuing? None appears overly concerned.

"Well, I think it’s a little ashamed that the US is backing out on something that the entire world agreed on. How often does that happen? And I’m sure the company(ies) in the US would like to remain relevant in the world stage, so I think they will do something even though the government is not fully behind that idea," says lab manager Ezana Mekonnen.

"The science will find its way, anyways. It’s not going to stop the revolution in the energy market," says Mohammed Rashidi.

"It does not affect any of my future endeavors when it comes to my research or my labor that I’m going to go with, because it’s not just in America, it’s an international thing. It will keep going regardless," says Salam Ahmed.

Fellow student Mehdy Khayama says he has closely followed the competitive philosophy of U.S. inventors Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

"Recently they asked the same question from bill gates about the new policies of the government and renewable energy, and his response was that ‘it’s the direction the world is going and industry is choosing’, so if the government doesn’t support it, it might decelerate it a little bit, but it’s the direction the whole world is going," says Khayama.

Unless the UWM energy distribution lab hears otherwise, it’s work will continue, as planned.