Empowering the Future: University of Utah’s Energy Futures Research Partners With EMA

Introduction: The University of Utah joined the Emerging Energy Markets Analysis (EMA) consortium earlier this year. We recently spoke with Dr. Marian Rice, Ph.D. who is the Associate Director of the University of Utah’s new Energy Futures Research Engine initiative to get her perspective on the partnership and what each organization has to offer one another.

Where does the Energy Futures Research Engine fit within the university and its overall focus on the energy sector?

We’re excited about our new Energy Futures Research Engine initiative, which was born out of a recognition that, while there’s a wealth of research happening on campus, it has often been siloed. We have institutes like EPIC (Utah Energy & Power Innovation Center) and EGI (The Energy & Geoscience Institute) conducting research in areas like engineering and mining, and departments like Political Science, Law, Business, and Architecture also contributing valuable insights into the energy sector.

Energy Futures Research is our attempt to bring all this research together. It’s not about placing these institutes under one umbrella, but rather creating a forum where these entities can come together and share their work. For example, when someone searches for “energy” on our website, they’ll be able to see all the great research happening across the university.

We’re also working on developing a roster of academics who are conducting energy research. This roster is growing longer by the day, and it’s been exciting to see the breadth and depth of expertise we have on campus.

Energy Futures Research is also about going after big ideas and topics. We’re leveraging the interdisciplinary research happening on campus and facilitating external partnerships to tackle these big ideas. EMA and INL (Idaho National Laboratory) are great examples of these kinds of partnerships.

Finally, we’re focused on nurturing these partnerships. We want to identify opportunities for collaboration that can help us all grow – not just within the University of Utah, but with other universities, research institutions, and industry as well. We believe in building each other up and growing together.

That’s the driving force behind Energy Futures Research. It’s about bringing together all the amazing work happening in different corners of our university and presenting it in a unified way. It’s about collaboration, growth, and pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve in energy research.

 How did you discover EMA?

My introduction to the EMA came through Tom Georgis from our PIVOT Center. The Center is focused on fostering entrepreneurial energy opportunities, especially in areas like mining where access to the grid is often limited.

In one of my first meetings at the University of Utah, Tom included me in a discussion with several members of EMA. This meeting was a real eye-opener for me. I was intrigued by what Steve Aumeier and Tom were discussing and expressed my interest in becoming part of the EMA community. They were gracious and welcoming, and the more I learned, the more I saw the potential for collaboration and mutual growth.

What motivated you to engage with EMA?

One of the key factors that motivated us to become more involved with EMA was the academic element. I noticed that other academic institutions like the University of Wyoming and Boise State University were already involved. Given the wealth of knowledge and resources we have at the University of Utah, I felt that we could make a significant contribution to EMA.

Moreover, I saw this as an opportunity to foster stronger connections between EMA and our academic institution. This academic collaboration was one of the initial aspects of EMA that really caught my attention and motivated us to become more engaged.

How do the Energy Futures Research Engine and EMA align?

One of the key points of alignment between Energy Futures Research and EMA is our shared focus on fostering relationships. We believe in the power of collaboration and mutual growth, and this is a principle that both our initiative and EMA uphold.

Another significant point of alignment is our commitment to community engagement. In the energy sector, particularly in areas like nuclear energy and small modular reactors, there’s often a degree of public concern or lack of confidence. We see an opportunity here to engage with the public and share valuable information to address these concerns.

For instance, during a recent EMA meeting, a representative from Wyoming shared some community engagement material they had developed for local farmers and ranchers. This kind of initiative aligns perfectly with our goals at Energy Futures Research.

In essence, our alignment with EMA is not just about internal academic collaboration, but also about external communication and engagement. We see great value in this partnership and look forward to continuing to work together for the benefit of our communities.

What expertise does the University of Utah bring to the EMA partnership?

The University of Utah brings a wealth of expertise to our partnership with EMA. One of the key areas we focus on is community alignment and social justice. My own work on the energy-water nexus and environmental justice in the Uinta Basin is a testament to this focus.

We also have extensive experience in engaging with diverse communities. We believe in the importance of consistent messaging to the public, and we strive to align our messaging with that of our partners in Wyoming, Boise, Alaska, and elsewhere.

Another area where we excel is policy engagement. As we move forward with initiatives like nuclear energy to reduce our carbon footprint, we understand the importance of maintaining strong connections with policymakers. The University of Utah has a strong track record in this area.

In terms of research, we have a lot to offer. For instance, I recently met with faculty from our law school  to explore potential alignments. We also have a strong focus on water resources, water rights, and water quality – all critical issues in energy production.

Finally, we have an amazing critical minerals working group here at the University of Utah. We’re excited about the potential for collaboration between this group and EMA.

In short, there are numerous opportunities for alignment and collaboration between Energy Futures Research and EMA. We’re excited about what we can achieve together.

What are your goals for the EMA partnership?

One of the primary goals for our partnership with the Emerging Energy Markets Analysis (EMA) is to develop and expand relationships beyond the University of Utah. Relationship building is crucial in our field, and it’s been exciting to see these relationships grow and flourish.

These networks and relationships are not just beneficial, but critical to getting projects off the ground and facilitating programmatic approaches. We hope to learn from EMA and its partners, share our knowledge, and identify any knowledge or data gaps that we can research further.

Another key goal is community engagement. With significant changes in the energy sector, such as the shift away from coal, there’s a need for workforce development. We see opportunities with EMA to identify workforce development opportunities in areas like nuclear energy.

However, it’s not just about professional and engineering roles. We also recognize the importance of operational maintenance roles. Without a strong workforce to operate and maintain our infrastructure, we can’t move forward. Therefore, developing a skilled workforce goes hand in hand with our technological advancements.

In short, our partnership with EMA is about building relationships, fostering community engagement, and developing a skilled workforce for the future of energy.

What are the expected benefits of the EMA partnership for your students and faculty?

The partnership with the Emerging Energy Markets Analysis (EMA) opens up numerous opportunities for both students and faculty at the University of Utah. We have an Energy Futures Executive Council and a larger faculty group that we’re looking to engage more with EMA. This has been a key agenda item in our recent council meetings.

We’re also exploring how we, as a research institution, can contribute to workforce development opportunities. This includes engaging with specific programs and faculty members to identify potential areas of collaboration.

What types of research projects or collaborations are you expecting will come from involvement with EMA?

We’re optimistic about the potential for future collaborations. We’re exploring opportunities in areas like critical minerals with INL, and we hope to initiate similar collaborations with EMA soon.

Even small projects can catalyze bigger opportunities and relationships. While we don’t have any specific projects with EMA at the moment, we’re hopeful that this will change soon. We believe that even a small start can lead to expanded opportunities and stronger relationships in the future.

What are other intriguing aspects of working with EMA?

One of the key aspects of our partnership with the Emerging Energy Markets Analysis team that I’d like to emphasize is its holistic vision. EMA excels in taking a comprehensive approach, considering everything from technical aspects to policy, ecology, social factors, and justice. This aligns perfectly with our goals at the University of Utah, and we’re excited to learn more from this approach.

Another strength of EMA is its proactive stance on community engagement. We believe it’s critical to involve the community from the very beginning of any project. This not only helps dispel misinformation and mitigate barriers but also leverages the community’s institutional knowledge and understanding of their landscape.

What will progress look like as this partnership evolves?

Looking back at my time as Deputy Director of Public Utilities, I can see how incremental progress can add up over time. Even though it may seem slow in the moment, when you look back, you realize how much has been achieved. This is something I see mirrored in our work with EMA.

In conclusion, our partnership with EMA is about more than just research and collaboration. It’s about taking a holistic approach, engaging with our communities, and making meaningful progress towards our shared goals.

Throughout my career, I’ve indeed sought out unique intersections that aren’t typical areas of research for the sector. This partnership with the Emerging Energy Markets Analysis (EMA) is a continuation of that journey. It’s an opportunity for me to learn and grow, and I’m thrilled about it.

My focus has been largely on water, but this translates seamlessly into energy, which is also a significant part of my research. This alignment between water and energy, two critical resources, makes this partnership with EMA not just relevant, but also exciting. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and I look forward to what the future holds.