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Interdisciplinary M.Eng. Project

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In Fall 2018, the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering will launch an interdisciplinary Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) project to tackle the most pressing technological and societal challenges surrounding infrastructure, energy, and the environment. This project will be open to all M.Eng. students across the College of Engineering. Our focus for the upcoming academic year will be projects to help restore Puerto Rico as a fully sustainable island. Specifically, our goal is to tackle the following challenge question for the 2018-2019 academic year: how might we design, build, and maintain a distributed energy system for Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico
photo / U.S. Department of Agriculture

In particular, the energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico is severely crippled. Puerto Rico has one electric company, PREPA, which was $9B in debt before the hurricane and has been operating with outdated equipment for years. Its power plants are an average of 44-years old and are supported by obsolete oil-fired systems. Once the hurricanes hit, this further exacerbated an already weak system and left 3.4M people without power. Recently, Richard Ramos, the Chief Executive of PREPA, announced to Puerto Ricans that their power infrastructure had been destroyed and that they should adjust to “a new way of life.” Eighty percent of the island's overhead transmission lines were damaged in the storm. Some estimates that it will take four-to-six months for power to be restored.

Some factors that will be taken into consideration:

  • Re-designing the electrical system in Puerto Rico to include more clean and sustainable energy sources, such as sun, water, and wind
  • Re-building and modernizing the power plants
  • Establishing a decentralized model to produce distributed electricity

Students from various engineering disciplines at Cornell will work with Puerto Rican stakeholders and other collaborators to understand the current state, meet with stakeholders, develop recommendations, and (eventually) deploy prototypes and solutions. They will travel to Puerto Rico during either winter or spring break for hands-on work to implement their findings. Student project teams will tackle projects with a systems-perspective and work with stakeholders in government, private sector, and academia.

The first year of the course will be focused on performing an assessment of the energy economy of Puerto Rico and identifying recommendations for moving forward. To build upon this work, the second year of the course will be focused on installing initial prototype concepts in 1-2 communities. Each subsequent year will then build upon the prior year’s activity to tackle this large, complex issue over time.

If you are interested in collaborating with Cornell to support this project or you are student interested in participating, please email Andrea Ippolito, Executive Director of the Engineering Management M.Eng. program, at aki2@cornell.edu.