Read the latest issue of ECE Connections

The latest issue of ECE Connections magazine is focused on energy and sustainability. Professor Alyssa Apsel, director of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, shares some thoughts below on the impactful work underway in Cornell ECE on these important issues.

Director's Reflections

Alyssa ApselAlyssa Apsel
Professor and Director

In April, the United Nations released a report on climate change with a dire warning that harmful carbon emissions from 2010-2019 have never been higher in human history. Scientists argued that it’s “now or never” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Based on the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN Secretary-General insisted that unless governments reassess their energy policies, the world will become uninhabitable. This statement makes it crystal clear that fighting climate change and enabling a sustainable future is perhaps the most salient grand challenge of our lifetime.

Striking a more positive note—and insisting that it is still possible to cut in half emissions by 2030—the IPCC made a call to action and urged governments to ramp up action to curb emissions. While technology alone cannot solve these problems without policy action, scientists and engineers do have an important role to play. This is why we have chosen to use this issue of Connections to highlight important work in energy and sustainability ongoing in Cornell ECE.

A number of grand challenges exist: These range from sustainable transportation and urban planning to improving the built environment to optimizing complex food production and consumption systems. In ECE, research spans this whole range of problems. For instance, while a primary limitation to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles is drivers’ range anxiety, not being able to recharge on long car trips, Assoc. Prof. Khurram Afridi imagines a world where the means of wirelessly charging these cars is embedded directly into the road itself.

Afridi is also working with Prof. Lang Tong and Asst. Prof. Francesco Monticone to explore ways to adapt the power grid to accommodate this new mode of transportation and revolutionize clean and efficient power delivery. In a different direction, Prof. Dave Hammer has spent a career exploring plasma physics with the goal of understanding fusion and its potential for clean energy production. Meanwhile, several groups are pursuing research into high efficiency computing and power grid management to support a sustainable future.

Technological advancements in sustainable transport, clean energy, and efficient computing provide opportunities to improve the health of populations while reducing their pollution and carbon footprint. As educators, however, we recognize that technology solutions alone are unlikely to solve the persistent environmental, societal and health problems that people are facing around the world.

To achieve sustainable, long-term solutions we need concerted action from key stakeholders—government, planners, health professionals, researchers, businesses—as well as individual citizens. Importantly, this requires effective public policy and business engagement to ensure translation of scientific outputs into actionable long-term solutions. Cornell ECE can play a role both on the technology side, and equally importantly in educating the next generation of leaders to meet these challenges.

Read more in ECE Connections magazine.


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