Andre Almeida '16

Chemical Engineering | SESPE Consulting

You worked with UC San Diego Facilities Management in energy management systems optimization. Could you elaborate on the work that you did and why energy efficiency is an important part of sustainability?

With UC San Diego Facilities Management I had the privilege of working directly under the Assistant Campus Energy Manager, Anna Levitt. Because 80% of the energy on the UC San Diego campus is used by lab facilities and operations, our work focused mainly on improving the energy efficiency of lab buildings and processes, specifically, the largest energy users, such as HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems and ultralow temperature freezers. We also ran pilot projects with new lighting technologies, plug load timers and other energy saving technologies.

As with any resource, using energy efficiently is an important part of being sustainable. However, to understand the magnitude of the impact energy efficiency can have, one needs to understand how energy production and distribution works. Usually, a metropolitan electrical grid is powered by a combination of relatively efficient processes. In California for example, natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear all contribute to our grids. While efficient, these energy generation methods can be slow moving when it comes to ramping up energy production. There are times when demand on the grid spikes (e.g., a hot afternoon where many people turn on their air conditioners) and temporarily exceeds what our standard processes can generate on short notice. In these cases, comparatively dirty and inefficient diesel or ethanol burning turbine engines are fired up to ensure the grid has enough electricity. By retrofitting and improving the efficiency of operations and equipment that are responsible for these peaks in demand, we reduce our dependence on these less than ideal energy sources.

How did you get into sustainability and which aspects of sustainability are you most interested in?

As far back as I can remember, I have loved the outdoors and a lot of my passion for environmental science comes from that. Over the course of my education and career, however, I have realized how privileged and simplistic my initial outlook of “let’s protect the environment so I have nice places to go backpacking” really is. Preserving natural spaces is important, but I’ve come to gain a much more nuanced appreciation for the impact of sustainability on individuals and communities.

Could you describe the issues of sustainability that you're working to solve and how your work makes an important contribution?

Because I work for a consulting firm, I am currently contributing to a wide range of projects. Air quality modeling, however, is the focus of my work. Using production data from my clients (often mining sites or other industrial entities), government developed software and meteorological data, I put together models that help determine the health risk posed by a project or facility. These risk models factor in things like population data, gas dispersion and the associated cancer, chronic, or acute risk associated with exposure to certain chemicals.

What advice would you give to students who want to minimize their impact on the environment? 

Considering the big picture is important when it comes to the environment. For example, hybrid and electric cars are a marvelous technology, but I believe their true cost is often underestimated. Mining the materials to make them burns fossil fuels, manufacturing them burns fossil fuels and creates pollution, shipping them (often from Asia) burns fossil fuels, and the environmental impacts of disposal are staggering. An efficient, used, 4-cylinder vehicle, on the other hand, requires no investment of raw materials with only a minor loss in fuel economy. I am not against new or hybrid cars, but in an era where corporations will do their best to conflate the modernity of a product with its sustainability, it is essential for students to be able to critically analyze all the relevant metrics by which we judge sustainability.  

Andre Almeida '16