Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Undergraduate Years Come to a Close

On Monday, March 12, 2012, I defended my ASU Barrett Honors College Senior Thesis, a research report based upon the findings of my summer 2011 circumnavigation of the globe in which I studied the development and deployment of solar energy technology and its relationships to differing national energy policies and levels of economic development. The report is entitled "Solar Energy Technologies: a Comparative Study of Commercial Applications and Government Policies" and is available for download here: The presentation based upon this report which I put together for my thesis defense contains additional information about the state of PV-related policy in the United States and is available for download here: A condensed, poster-formatted version of this information which I presented at the ASU/UoA Student Renewable Energy Science Conference on April 19th and 20th of 2012 can be downloaded here: A paper based upon my research findings in Bangladesh has been accepted for publication and poster presentation at the 38th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Austin, TX this summer and I look forward to posting it after the completion of the conference.

On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, I learned that I had been selected as the recipient of the 2012 US Fulbright Climate Change and Clean Energy Scholarship. With this scholarship, I intend to study and conduct photovoltaic research in Australia at the University of New South Wales School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering during the 2013 Australian academic year. There is no doubt in my mind that the learning experiences which I had and the professional connection which I made as a Circumnavigators Club Foundation Scholar were integral to the success that I have had in my Fulbright application. Once again, I would like to extend my gratitude to the Circumnavigators Club for enabling my summer of travel and research, and providing me the opportunities which are shaping my academic and career path.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back at Home

On Wednesday, August 10th, I boarded a plane in Melbourne, Australia bound for Los Angeles, California. My research travels had come to an end and my circumnavigation of the globe was nearly complete. After the 15 hour flight to LA and an extended 10 hour layover in LA due to canceled connection flights, I took my final plane ride of the summer and traveled from LA back to Phoenix, Arizona, where my circumnavigation journey had begun three months ago.

Sitting at my computer in my newly setup apartment, I reflect on the experiences that I have had this summer in awe. All the places that I have visited, all the people that I have met and all of the adventures that I have undertaken have changed me. My perspective have been broadened, my knowledge has been deepened and my ability to solve problems has been exercised and enhanced. My mind is swimming with all that I have learned about the global solar energy technology industry during my travels, and I look forward to compiling this information into my research paper in the coming months.

I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Circumnavigators Club and its member for making this unforgettable and life changing summer trip possible for me. Thank you so very much. I look forward to my continued involvement with the Circumnavigators Club and to the further travels that I am sure my future will hold. Although one might think that my wanderlust would have been satiated by the travels of this summer, I have found just the opposite to be the case. My travels have only intensified my desire to explore the many different areas of this globe, meeting people and engaging in the never-ending quest for greater understanding.

Monday, August 8, 2011

In Australia,

I visited Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. In Sydney, I enjoyed a tour of the University of New South Wales School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering and a meeting with its director, Dr. Richard Corkish. I desired to visit the University of New South Wales because it is a world renowned institution in the field of solar energy technology, having offered the first specialized degree in that area and having set a number of world records with its technology. My time there was very informative and provided insight into the history and current state of solar energy technology research in Australia. Additionally, in Sydney, I took time to explore the famous architecture, coastline and wildlife of the area, visiting such places as the Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach and Featherdale Wildlife Park.

In Canberra, I visited the Australian National University Solar Energy Research group and met with its director, Dr. Andrew Blakers. Additionally, to learn a little bit about Australian history and culture, I visited the Australian War Memorial, the National Film and Sound Archive, and the Canberra Museum and Gallery. The honorary installations and informative exhibition of the Australian War Memorial were particularly moving.

Finally, in Melbourne, I enjoyed a few days of beach walks and city excursions with travelers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Sweden before packing up my things for the last time in order to fly back home. The evening before I was to leave, the hostel I was staying at hosted an Open Mic Night. Having seen me carrying around my trumpet case, the staff asked if I would be interested in opening up the event with a song. Plugging my iPhone into the speaker system and turning on the rhythm section accompaniment, I hopped up on stage and performed Clifford Brown's composition "Joy Spring", a jazz standard off of the 1955 album Clifford Brown and Max Roach. The many assembled travelers and hostel staff seemed to enjoy the performance very much. I was honored to be given the opportunity to finish off my travels and start off their evening with a performance of one of my favorite pieces.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

After my visit to Japan,

I took a few day stopover in New Zealand before continuing on to Australia. Having been traveling in the northern hemisphere for the past two and a half months, I was not prepared for my crossing of the equator. Whereas a t-shirt or polo had been perfectly comfortable attire in Spain, Germany, Qatar, India, Bangladesh and Japan, that was not the case in New Zealand. My first question upon arriving at my hostel was regarding where I could find a store at which to buy warmer clothing. Fortunately, Auckland's central business district was only a short bus ride away from the hostel and within a few hours of my arrival in the country, I was the proud new owner of a New Zealand sweatshirt. Following an afternoon of shopping in Auckland, I enjoyed a meal of steamed green-lipped New Zealand mussels.

The next day, I hiked up Mount Eden, an extinct volcano that was only a five minute walk from the hostel at which I was staying. Mount Eden is the highest natural point in Auckland and the peak at the top of its volcanic cone affords a beautiful view of the city and surrounding water.

On my last full day in New Zealand, I took a ferry ride from Auckland out to Rangitoto island. Rangitoto is a volcanic island a few kilometers off the coast of New Zealand's North Island which was formed through a series of eruptions beginning approximately six to seven hundred years ago. Rangitoto was covered in a variety of foliage which sometimes seemed to grow magically out of barren fields of volcanic rock. The island was home to a plethora of avian wildlife and featured a number of lava caves. At the top of the island, there was a spectacular view of the surrounding ocean and some other islands near to the coast of New Zealand's North Island.

The hostel proved to be a wonderful place to meet other world travelers and I greatly enjoyed the chance to talk to backpackers from Germany, China, Canada and the United States about their time in and motivations for coming to New Zealand before I continued on my way to Sydney, Australia.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My visit to Japan

was facilitated by Mrs. Akiko Imaizumi and Mr. Tetsuo Takehara, International Coordinators at the University of Tokyo to whom I had been introduced by Dr. Ryuji Oshima. Dr. Oshima was previously a visiting researcher from the University of Tokyo at Arizona State University and was kind enough to meet with me many months ago in order to discuss my desire to visit Japan as I began planning my circumnavigation itinerary. Mrs. Imaizumi and Mr. Takehara arranged accommodations at a University of Tokyo lodge for international research students and set up two weeks full of solar energy technology related meetings and Japanese cultural experiences for me. I cannot thank them enough for the time and energy which they put into making my stay in Japan such an exceptional experience.

On my first full day in Japan, I explored the Hongo campus of the University of Tokyo and walked about a beautiful koi pond in the center of campus.

After this enjoyable experience, I attended The Global Solar+ Initiative, a day-long seminar in which Japanese solar industry stakeholders addressed the question “Is It Feasible to Build Civilization Based on Solar Power as The Main Source of Energy?”. Such individuals as Mikio Katayama, the President of Sharp Corporation, and Koichi Kawana, President of JGC Corporation gave presentations at the seminar. During the second day of my visit, I met with Professor Yoshiaki Nakano, Director of the University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST) and its Solar Quest initiative, and Professor Yoshitaka Okada, an expert in the area of quantum dots and intermediate band solar cells. Our multi-faceted discussions were very enlightening and proved to be excellent introductions to solar energy technology research in Japan. The third day of my visit found me on the train with Mr. Takehara to Hokuto, a town approximately 90 miles west of Tokyo where a 1 MW demonstration solar power plant project was jointly organized by the Japanese government body The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) and the city of Hokuto. The plant has proved a successful venue for the comparative evaluation of various types of solar energy technology in Japan and as a research environment in which issues pertaining to the grid connection of a large solar power plant could be studied. Tours of the plant are given regularly and a surprising number of people were there to learn more about the use of solar energy technology. It was a very tangible expression of the popular Japanese interest in renewable energy technologies.

The popular Japanese interest in renewable energy technologies was a common theme to many of the discussions that I had in Japan. Having arrived in Japan only four months after the Tohuko earthquake and tsunami of March 11 which ravaged eastern Japan and initiated the still ongoing Fukushima nuclear reactor crises, the “energy question” was on the everyone’s mind. In fact, during my visit, the prime minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, announced that Japan must reduce its reliance upon nuclear power and move towards the greater utilization of renewable energy technologies. Though this idea has almost unanimous public support, many people that I talked to were unsure of how such a plan would play out. Since many of Japan’s nuclear power plants have been temporarily closed in response to the Fukushima disaster and many fossil fuel plants in northern Japan were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, Japan continues to face serious power shortages. During my stay, I observed Japanese citizens and organizations working together to reduce power consumption in order to not exceed the reduced power production of the nation. Air conditioners were turned off, elevators and escalators were shut down, laboratories were temporarily closed and factory schedules were rearranged in attempts to avoid the rolling blackouts that would result from exceeding the reduced production capacity.

The day after my visit to the Hokuto solar power plant, I met with Professor Makoto Konagai of the Tokyo Institute of Technology to discuss his work in the area of multijunction thin film solar cells and then traveled to the offices of NEDO in order to talk to Mr. Kohsuke Ohba and Mr. Atsuhiko Kiba about the Japanese government’s funding programs for solar energy technology research. Finally, to conclude my first week in Japan, on Friday, I returned to the University of Tokyo to visit the laboratories of Professor Hiroshi Segawa and the JX Nippon Oil and Energy Corporation, and to discuss the research on organic solar cells that is taking place at RCAST with Associate Professor Takaya Kubo. The contrast in the equipment of the organic solar cell laboratories and the crystalline solar cell laboratories was quite shocking. While they both utilized largely the same cell characterization equipment, the cell fabrication equipment was entirely different. While the crystalline solar cell laboratories contained a variety of expensive crystal growth equipment, the organic solar cell labs contained merely a screen printer, glass substrates and a few flasks of chemicals. Having previously had little experience with organic solar cells, Professor Kubo’s introduction to the area was very informative for me.

Over my first weekend in Japan, I enjoyed many unique Japanese cultural experiences. On Friday night, Mr. Takehara took me out to a delicious tempura dinner. The meal consisted of a number of small portions of lightly fried local vegetables and seafood. Each item was prepared in front of us by the chef and then placed at our table setting. A few of the courses which were particularly unique in my experience were the raw octopus and the eel bone.

Following our dinner, we visited a Japanese jazz club, The Pit Inn, to catch a few sets of originals by local players. Mr. Takehara said that he had been there over thirty years ago and thought that it might be a good place to listen to some Japanese players. He was absolutely right. The concert was fantastic and further highlighted for me the fact that jazz has spread around the globe. It is exciting for me to think that great local players can be found in almost every major metropolitan area in the world. On Saturday, I visited the surroundings of the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo and spent hours admiring the area’s gardens and waterways.

Sunday, I explored a number of areas in downtown Tokyo, walking about the Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara districts. Everywhere I looked there were densely packed and brightly lit buildings full of all manner of wares and entertainment. I tried my hand at Pachinko, a unique Japanese game combining elements of pinball and slot machines, and found some old videogame favorites in the arcades. Though people seemed to be having a wonderful time in the many karaoke bars, I did not feel particularly inclined to share my vocal stylings with the other citizens of Tokyo. The final day of my weekend in Japan was on Monday since the third Monday of July is the national Japanese holiday, Marine Day. I took this opportunity to visit the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. Between the gates leading up to the temple, vendors in small stores decorated with flags and lanterns sold every imaginable type of Japanese snack food and souvenir. At the temple, the many visitors were busily engaged in lighting incense, washing their hands in tsukubai (ceremonial washbasins) and learning about their fortunes at wooden omikuji cabinets. At the omikuji cabinets, one would shake a small hexagonal metal cylinder and then draw from it one of many thin sticks which each had a unique character sequence written upon it. The stick-drawer would then open the drawer of the cabinet upon which the corresponding character sequence was written to receive a piece of paper detailing their fortune. I found it somewhat ironic that when I attempted this, my fortune advised me that I currently had very bad luck and that I should cancel any trips that I had been planning. Needless to say, I did not take this advice.

My second week in Japan consisted of visits to a number of cities outside of Tokyo. On Tuesday, I took the train to Tsukuba, a city northeast of Tokyo which is home to the University of Tsukuba and the National Institute for Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). In Tsukuba, I met up with Dr. Oshima. Dr. Oshima showed me around the University of Tsukuba (where he had worked upon his undergraduate and graduate degrees) and then took me to visit his new place of employment, AIST. At AIST, Dr. Koji Matsubara, gave me a thorough presentation on the many areas of solar energy technology currently being researched there and I toured the photovoltaic research laboratory facilities before engaging in an educational discussion with Dr. Oshima and his colleague Dr. Takeyoshi Sugaya on their current work in the area of quantum dots and intermediate band materials and solar cells. On Wednesday, I took the Shinkansen (commonly known as "the bullet train") to Nagoya in order to visit Professor Masafumi Yamaguchi and his solar energy technology research laboratory at the Toyota Technological Institute. Following my informative visit with Professor Yamaguchi, I continued on by train to Kyoto. On Thursday, I traveled from Kyoto to Nara in order to visit one of Professor Yamaguchi’s former doctoral students, Dr. Tatsuya Takamoto, who is currently working on multijunction solar cells and concentrated photovoltaics at Sharp. Dr. Takamoto gave me a presentation regarding Sharps solar energy technology business activities and had a number of interesting things to say regarding the relationship between academic and industrial work in the area of solar energy technology in Japan, and regarding the international solar energy technology marketplace. Following my morning visit with Dr. Takamoto, I took the afternoon to visit some of the historic temples in Nara, an ancient Japanese city that was the capital of the country between 710 and 784 AD. Historically, the deer surrounding the temples of Nara were considered sacred and today, they are a protected species which roam free and tame around the town. Herds of deer could be found grazing on the grass in front of office buildings, walking across the streets when the crosswalk sign turned green, and approaching temple visitors for a snack or a pat on the head.

On Friday, I walked around Kyoto, taking in the sights and sounds of more ancient temples before returning to Tokyo to pack my things and ready myself for my departure to New Zealand on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Visiting Bangladesh

was an experience unlike any that I have previously had. 

In Dhaka, I stayed with Jeremy Wendte and two other American Fulbright Fellows, Sloan Kulper and Holly Battelle. Jeremy was a fellow student research assistant at the Arizona State University Solar Power Laboratory until he graduated last December and left the United States to begin his study of solar energy technology usage in Bangladesh. Without the help of these knowledgeable three, I would have been lost in the dirty, wet and overcrowded cityscape in which I found myself. 

Never had I been so grateful for the basic infrastructure which I enjoy in the United States as I was during my stay in Bangladesh. Trash piles lay in smelly heaps on the side of the street. Poorly managed, continually honking traffic congested roads at all hours of the day and night. Electrical and telecommunications wiring was strung up haphazardly in a tangled and indecipherable mess. Power to entire neighborhoods of the city was shut off for hours at a time in order to compensate for insufficient production.

And more shocking than all of these somewhat superficial urban unpleasantries was the fact that 100 million Bangladeshi citizens do not even have inconsistent power to complain about. They have no electrical grid connection at all. 

This unfortunate situation has created a very large market need which a number of organizations are attempting to meet. Grameen Shakti and BRAC are two non-profit organizations which offer a variety of micro-financed energy products to this market. Grameen Shakti's product line includes solar power systems, biogas plants and improved cooking stoves. Visiting Grameen Shakti's corporate headquarters in Dhaka and their regional and branch offices the Phulpur region gave me a unique opportunity to learn about the operation of their organization and see how they are meeting the needs of the Bangladeshi people through solar power.

In the Phulpur region, Holly and I visited a rural market in which a number of Grameen Shakti's solar power systems have been installed. Store owners were excited to speak to us about their systems. Among the many benefits which they enjoyed were extended hours of business at night, improved quality of lighting in comparison to the burning of kerosene, increased income from the renting out of one or more of their lights to fellow shopkeepers and reduced operating costs (after full payment for the system) due to the elimination of their need to purchase kerosene.

A number of solar panels can be seen atop the shops in the market below.

Word of the solar power system's benefits appeared to be moving quickly through town and we were fortunate enough to observe the installation of a new system for a small dry goods store.

Our visit seemed to be the talk of the town. People gathered around to listen to our conversations with store owners as we sat sipping the tea which they had so kindly given us. Before we left, everyone gathered in front of the town tailor's shop for a group photo.

Following our visit to the market, Holly and I visited a number of residences which had Grameen Shakti systems installed. We observed the full spectrum of the Grameen Shakti product line including improved cooking stoves which greatly reduce biomass fuel consumption and indoor air pollution

and biogas plants which create methane which can be used for cooking and heating.

Everywhere we visited, owners were enthusiastic about the benefits of the systems, proudly showing off their new lights, small fans, cell phone chargers and televisions.

One of Grameen Shakti's unique organizational features is the Grameen Technology Center. Throughout Bangladesh, 44 Grameen Technology Centers train and employ women in the construction and repair of the lamp shade and charge controller circuits which are part of the Grameen solar power systems. Holly and I visited the Phulpur region Technology Center and spoke to a few of the women who worked there. Although they found the work repetitive, they expressed great satisfaction that they could work from home and that they could make substantial contributions to their families' incomes due to the work opportunity which Grameen Shakti provided them.

Even in grid connected areas in Bangladesh, the market for solar energy technology is substantial. A growing number of people view distributed solar power generation as a viable solution to cities' power shortages. New legislation encourages the installation of solar panels onto newly constructed buildings and photovoltaic integration was a substantial topic of discussion at the first meeting of the Bangladesh Green Building Council which Jeremy, Holly, Sloan and I attended.

In a fortuitous turn of events, a 1 kW solar power plant was installed on the top of the apartment building in which I was staying only a few days before I left Dhaka, Bangladesh for Tokyo, Japan.

I thought it would be the perfect place for a picture.

Inspired by the unfamiliar surroundings, I stayed up one night to compose this song:

Bengali Bangup by Steve Limpert

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Mumbai,

I stayed at a guesthouse on the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus by Powai Lake. Since my flight landed at 3:20am, the management was asleep when I arrived at the guesthouse and so I decided to wander around campus for a few hours. Since the campus lies in a heavily forested area, the wildlife on campus is quite diverse. Over the couse of my time at IIT, I saw crabs, monkeys, cattle, dogs, lizards, swans and all manner of other types of birds. Here's a short video I took at sunrise on Lake Powai on the morning of my arrival and a few pictures of some of the creatures that I saw during my stay at IIT.

My visit to IIT Bombay was prompted by my desire to talk with Professor Chetan Solanki about his work in the area of silicon solar cells and about the many projects going on at IIT in the broader area of solar energy technology. As part of the Indian National Solar Mission, the National Center for Photovoltaic Research and Education has been established at IIT Bombay for the purpose of assisting in achieving the national goal of 20 GW of installed solar energy systems by 2020. Towards this end, research across the full spectrum of solar energy technology is being pursued at the center. Additionally, courses are offered to current university students as well as to professionals of all levels of expertise and certification programs for technical workers are being developed. As part of this large research endeavor, the IIT Bombay Department of Energy Science and Engineering is collaborating with government and industry partners to build at 1 MW solar thermal power plant in Delhi which will serve as a technology evaluation and testing ground.

On the first of my sight-seeing days in Mumbai, I visited Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The park is located north of downtown Mumbai and lies between the eastern and the western city suburbs. With an area of 104 square kilometers, it holds the world record for the largest park within a city boundary. In the park, I took a seven kilometer motorbike ride into the forest in order to see the Kanheri Caves. The Kanheri Caves are Buddhist dwellings and religious spaces which were carved into basaltic mountain rock between the 1st century BCE and the 10th century CE. The caves feature carvings of Buddha and other religious figures, ancient inscriptions and stupas, mound-like structures which often contain Buddhist relics. Below are a few photos and a video that I took while exploring some of the 109 caves.

After exploring the caves, I visited the park's information center. The center contains a number of displays about local flora and fauna, as well as about climate change and the importance of the conservation of resources and wildlife habitat. A short hike from the information center is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi which features a central pavilion and surrounding gardens as can be seen below.

The following day, I took a tour of Mumbai in order to explore the jungle of the innercity. During my tour, I visited a temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a beach upon which a large ship had been forced to make an emergency landing, a public laundry, the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai which feature a variety of animal-shaped carved hedges, Gandhi's residence, Victoria Station and the Gate of India. Below are some pictures from my urban adventures.

After the completion of my time in Mumbai, I flew to Ahmedabad, a city in the northern state of Gujarat, in order to visit Dr. Omkar Jani at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU) and the Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute (GERMI). While both institutions were established through the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation, their work does not focus exclusively on oil and natural gas. In fact, GERMI has an entire solar research wing which works in solar energy policy, technology and education. Seeing as Gujarat is the most progressive Indian state in its pursuit of renewable energy usage and established substantial state solar energy goals and subsidy programs before the national government did, GERMI is in prime position to have a very significant impact. Currently, GERMI is partaking in a number of exciting projects including a 1 MW photovoltaic test facility on the campus of PDPU and a city-wide rooftop installation program.

Staying in the university dormitories at PDPU, I had the opportunity to meet some of the students who had remained on campus for the summer in order to do internships with the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation. It was fascinating to chat with my new friends, Larsika and Swastika, about their work and about the differences between American and Indian culture while exploring the areas surrounding campus.

Following the conclusion of my visit to Ahmedabad, I flew back to Mumbai and prepared to depart for Dhaka, Bangladesh.