Re-powering the Energy Consumer by Law

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Our Summer School in Washington, D.C.

On August 13, we left for the summer school in Washington to broaden our horizons and our knowledge of energy law. Although we had had a course on energy law already, this summer school was intended to familiarize ourselves with energy law in an international context and focus on its implications in a practical manner. This week, we paired up with students from the George Washington University Law School (GW). Together, we visited many interesting projects and people in Washington who gave us an indication of the possibilities and challenges of the legal framework in the United States. We can look back upon a very interesting week and we shortly want to give you an overview of the activities that we had. 

On the first day of our trip, we started off with two lectures by professor Roggenkamp of the University of Groningen and professor Attanasio of the university in Washington, followed by a tour of the GW law library. In the afternoon, the GW Office of Sustainability provided us with a tour and presentation on the many projects aimed at creating a green and sustainable campus. We learned that the GW university already derives more than half its electricity from solar energy by using both campus buildings and solar panel farms outside of the city. The tour also led us inside the utility room of the Gelman library, which had undergone significant sustainable improvements as part of the GW’s eco-building programme, and even on top of the library itself.

Next to the efforts by the GW university, the tour also focused on the efforts made by the students. To enhance student participation, the Office of Sustainability hosts contests to challenge students and organizations to come up with sustainable solutions. The winning team in 2017 created a solar charging station where students can charge their phones outside by means of a solar panel. You can still find this solar charging station on Kogan Plaza and charge your phone or laptop there, and it serves as a nice symbol of the sustainable road the GW university is taking. 

On August 14, we started our day by visiting the Public Service Commission. The district of Columbia Public Service Commission was established by the US Congress in 1913. Since then, the Commission is responsible for regulating landline telephone, electricity, and gas utility companies operating within the District of Columbia. Together with the American students, we attended a presentation on its regulatory responsibilities, including to consumers and grid modernization. Modernizing the District’s distribution energy delivery system is the Commission’s top priority. Their goals are to ensure that the energy delivery system remains safe, reliable, and affordable while also becoming more sustainable, interactive, and secure. Washington will investigate ways to make the electric system more efficient, in line with the Commission’s top priority.

After this interesting presentation, we visited Tesla’s dealership for an introduction to car batteries, charging and storage. We experienced what it is like to be in a Tesla model ‘s’ or ‘x’. The details of the cars were amazing. They gave us an introduction to car batteries, charging and storage and this is in line with the research of the storage group. 

 

In the afternoon the adventure continued towards New Partners Community Solar. This non-profit organization, founded by Nixon Peabody, has been producing and distributing clean renewable energy from three solar arrays on commercial buildings. After a short introduction, we discussed the Jubilee Project. This is one of their projects where energy is distributed for free to low-income Jubilee residents. Jubilee is an organization that builds affordable homes. They believe that the health and the environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy should be accessible to everyone, regardless of income. They are developing a model for generating energy from solar arrays on rooftops and distributing the energy to low-income individuals and families to reduce their energy burdens. 

On August 15, we had a lot of time to work on our own research. In the afternoon we visited DC Solar UnitedNeighborns. This organization provides community solar for people that want to install solar panels on their home but can’t or prefer not to. Community solar offers the benefits of solar to these people and it works quite easily. Individuals or businesses can purchase a ‘share’ in a community solar project and then receive a credit on their electric bill each month for the energy produced by that share. The organization is active in four states and it is an interesting example of how to be creative and optimize the benefits of solar energy.

Friday, August 16 was the last day of our program. We started the day with an informative lecture given by Mr. Lee Paddock, the Associate Dean for Environmental Law Studies and Achinthi Vithanage, Visiting Assistant Professor and Environmental Law Fellow. The lecture was about Energy Equity and Justice in the US and everyone learned a lot from it. During the lecture, we also discussed energy equity and justice in the EU. The lecture lasted for only an hour because we were going to prepare for the final presentation in the afternoon, and we were all nervous but so excited to show our final presentation. After a short lunch break and brief practices for the afternoon, we arrived at the Jacob Burns Moot Court Room in Lerner Building. The Moot Court has a very interesting interior. It is set up like a courtroom and includes a judge’s desk, testimony seat, prosecution and defence tables, chairs for viewing trials. Once we stepped in the moot courtroom, we felt like we were in a real courtroom. The presentation soon started. Each team made a 15-20 minute presentation of their own question, thesis, and research plan. Afterwards, the other teams and the professors posed relevant questions regarding the topic and the presenting teams answered the questions from the audience. After the presentations, GW university gave us all a special T-shirt with the name “GW” on it as a gift. We immediately took the opportunity to shoot a photo in front of the amazing courtroom! The photo is at the beginning of the article.

The summer school program was finished in a short week, but everyone gained a lot of experience and knowledge. We learned to work with our new American colleagues in a short period of time and delivered a satisfying final product. We gained plenty of academic knowledge about energy law during the lectures and practical knowledge regarding the energy sector in the US by visiting various American institutions and firms. In the end, we made a commitment by continuing to work with our American colleagues on a joint paper in the form of long distance communication.