As the conversation on the global future of climate change intensifies, CIEE Director Carl Blumstein shares his thoughts on the organization’s role in effecting change in the coming years.
Blumstein has over 40 years of experience in energy research and R&D management. He has been the Director of CIEE since 2002 and is also the Executive Director of the CITRIS Climate initiative. His extensive experience and long-time involvement with CIEE makes him the perfect speculator for casting lines into the future.
Shifting Focus to Climate Adaptation and Policy
With the disclaimer that all projections are dependent on the final state budget, Blumstein remains optimistic that significantly more funding will be invested, as promised, in tackling climate change, which paints an encouraging picture for the growth of CIEE’s research endeavors.
“I am anticipating that one of the changes we’re likely to see is more work on adaptation and resilience rather than just mitigation,” said Blumstein. In line with this shift, CITRIS Climate, of which CIEE is a part, has appointed a new Faculty Director, Professor Michele Barbato, whose work consists of a heavy focus on climate change adaptation, among other topics.
Additionally, the organization’s recent foray into implementing construction projects—as in the case of the Oakland Ecoblock project—points to a future of influencing policy informed by on-the-ground implementation. “Our experiences [with EcoBlock] can help guide the resolution of the kinds of challenges that we’ve encountered in the process of creating a block association that can own the EcoBlock microgrid,” noted Blumstein. “Also, negotiations with utilities, which have been cordial but challenging, point to needs for changes in institutions and regulations.”
Partnerships are Key
Complex, nurtured, and deeply rewarding, CIEE’s partnerships have been a critical aspect of the functioning of the organization. “I think that our success is going to be dependent not on just engaging our team, but engaging others—and most of the projects have lots of partners, so I don’t see that changing,” said Blumstein.
A recently submitted vehicle-to-grid (V2G) proposal by CIEE uses electric vehicles (EVs) to maintain critical services in buildings during emergency events or peak-demand periods, an example of electrification innovation with a high potential for engaging exciting collaborations, especially in the transportation sustainability research sector. Blumstein is hopeful about the possibility of “growing some,” as he puts it, and expanding the network of partners that allows CIEE to do the work that it does.
The Big Strategy: Flexibility and Opportunism
Is there an overarching strategy or a long-term plan for CIEE? Blumstein addresses this almost poetically, with a mindset rooted in becoming what society requires within the ambit of energy innovation.
“Our strategy for what we’re trying to do is to make a contribution to what’s really an existential crisis. But knowing exactly how you can do that when you don’t have all the control that you’d like in setting the environmental constraints means you just have to be somewhat opportunistic and tackle it.”
He continues, “It’s not like ‘Oh, here’s our objective, and this is how we’re going to get there in a very specific way.’ It’s been characteristic of CIEE that we’ve been responsive to opportunities, but we’ve stayed focused on efforts where we think we can make a contribution.”
That said, Blumstein categorizes the organization’s work into two broad pursuits: building controls and grid management. “The ideal outcome would be a world in which we could scale those things—and there are some larger projects, taking the research we developed at a technical level and scaling it, particularly in demand response,” he says. With a mix of inspiration and pragmatism, CIEE will continue striving to affect change in the increasingly critical world of climate and energy innovation.