PHILADELPHIA â To a room full of academics and Ph.D. students in the notoriously polluted city of Beijing, the University of Pennsylvaniaâs Iliana SepĂșlveda presented ideas for increasing the use of energy-efficient technology that may one day help lessen the burden of fossil-fuel combustion in that city, as well as many others across the globe.
SepĂșlveda is a second-year student in Pennâs Master of Environmental Studies Program, concentrating in environmental policy. Her presentation took place at the World Resources Forum, held Oct. 21-23, in Beijing. The conference brought together more than 700 participants representing more than 50 countries to share research and experiences revolving around the theme âResources and the Green Economy."
âIâd participated in some events at Penn but never had made a presentation in an international forum,â SepĂșlveda said. âIt was exciting.â
Research that SepĂșlveda had begun in two classes her first semester at Penn fit into the conferenceâs theme. Her investigations explored the benefits of subsidizing purchases of energy-efficient durable goods, such as refrigerators or other major appliances.
The idea came to her because SepĂșlvedaâs home country of Mexico has a program that provides subsidies to households that replace old appliances with âgreenerâ versions. She wanted to see how similar programs worked in a variety of countries with different economic circumstances. In addition to studying the program in Mexico, she looked at parallel efforts in the United States, Australia, Spain and China.
Based on her findings, she concluded that subsidies reap the biggest impact in middle-income countries, such as Mexico, where access to electricity is relatively widespread and electricity costs are moderate. In these sites, subsidies benefit the so-called âtriple bottom lineâ: they save money for individuals and for utilities, they benefit society by improving quality of life and they help protect the environment with reduced energy demand.
SepĂșlvedaâs 20-minute presentation was well received and met with several questions.
âSome I had thought about, but others expanded my view on the topic,â she said. âFor instance, some questions asked me about how to quantify these effects, and a next step for my research may be to include some numbers in my analyses, like employment rates, to move beyond a qualitative approach.â
A grant from Pennâs Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the School of Arts and Sciences supported SepĂșlvedaâs trip, her first to China. She was accompanied to Beijing by another Penn MES student, Aishwarya Nair, who attended the Forum as leader of a group of students who write for Oikos Internationalâs Student Reporter, a media organization that supports student journalists covering economic and environmental global events. SepĂșlveda also participated as a blogger.
Appropriately for a student of environmental issues, the aspect of the trip that left the strongest impression on SepĂșlveda was Beijingâs poor air quality.
âI really enjoyed the trip, but the pollution is terrible,â she said. âThey burn massive quantities of coal. You can see it and you can feel it.â