COLA Connections Newsletter: Winter 2013

Faculty Profile - Dr. Eric Hittinger, Department of Public Policy

Dr. Eric Hittinger is a faculty member in the Department of Public Policy. He has been an outstanding asset to the College of Liberal Arts in his short time here; his knowledge and interdisciplinary expertise are appreciated by his students. Speaking in the Stan McKenzie Salon Series on December 11th, Eric spoke of his research on energy storage and wind power. His presentation was both passionate and enlightening.

You’re teaching for the Public Policy department here at RIT, but your area of study revolved around engineering. How did you end up where you are?

I used to do engineering for the US Government back when the Global War on Terror was a popular and important thing. But during this time I became increasingly interested in the big questions relating to the future of energy and the environment (particularly climate change). If you listen to discussions on these topics, you will hear a huge variety of answers, ranging from "We are all doomed" to "Everything is fine", and I wanted to know what the real truth was on these topics. I also take it as a personal philosophy to focus on important problems rather than targeting a particular career path, and trust that good jobs will be available if you are working on important issues. From all of this, I found the perfect location for further study: the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. While I was there, I learned a great quantity of policy, economics, and law. I used (and still use) my technical skills to do some complex modeling of electricity systems to answer important policy questions, like "How can we accommodate more wind generation on the grid?" and "How can energy storage be used most effectively for electricity grid services?”.

Being a rather new member of the RIT community, how has the transition been?

The transition to RIT has been great. Curiously, my entire academic background was at private engineering schools (Case Western Reserve and Carnegie Mellon), so the RIT context is familiar.

You spoke in the Stan McKenzie Salon Series, presenting about your research. What did you talk about?

At the McKenzie Salon, I talked about a topic that I've been researching for several years, which is how energy storage can help when adding lots of wind power to the electricity system. In short, wind power is the best option in the US for replacing fossil fuels in the next few decades, but it has the problem that it only produces power when the wind blows. Energy storage can help with this, but no one is quite sure of the best and most economic way to use energy storage to meet this need

Any future research in the works?

For the future, my research will be in the same or similar areas. More of my current work is looking at the economics and operation of microgrid systems, which may be a big part of electricity production in the future, especially in developing countries. I'm trying to understand how the market for microgrids will develop and compete with traditional electricity systems. From this, we can suggest prudent electricity policy that facilitates the transition.