The Environmental Performance Index and the Yale Data-Driven Environmental Solutions Group are pleased to introduce Danny Macri as one of its new Research Fellows. Sponsored by the CT Green Bank, Danny will investigate how municipality level policies can drive residential solar PV installations.
Danny is a 2015 graduate of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) where he studied industrial ecology and water resource management. Prior to Yale, he worked at Development Alternatives, Inc. in Bethesda, MD on environmental management and food security development programs in Asia. Danny has a B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross and a Masters of Environmental Management from F&ES.
How does your graduate school studies relate to your current work?
Working with the Environmental Performance Index and the Yale Data-Driven Environmental Solutions Group I will develop a scorecard to assess municipal support for clean energy technologies in Connecticut. The scorecard will enable local governments to measure how much their programs support the adoption of new clean energy systems in their jurisdictions.
My Masters research at Yale focused on Industrial Ecology. Most disciplines of ecology study the interaction between organisms and natural systems. Industrial ecology looks at material and energy flows through systems that humans have created and assesses how these flows impact the natural environment. We know, for example, that driving an electric car has a smaller environmental impact than gas-powered vehicle use. An industrial ecologist would take a more holistic view, identifying and quantifying environmental impacts from the power source of the electric cars, as well as the impacts associated with extracting, refining, and fabricating the materials used to manufacture the vehicle.
By applying a systems level analysis to policy, we can make better informed decisions. Using industrial ecology frameworks has allowed me to put into practice my interest with improving efficiencies in human systems, particularly in waste management. Supported by a fellowship from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for the Circular Economy, I investigated how traditional extractive industries, which epitomize the linear economy, can responsibly dispose and utilize mine tailings, a waste stream much larger than household garbage.
Through an industrial ecology lens, we observe that energy consumption is often associated with the largest environmental impacts. To lessen our energy system’s inefficiencies and externalities means addressing waste in our energy distribution and utilization networks while also significantly increasing clean energy’s role in our power mix.
While most researchers focus on energy and environmental solutions at the state, national, and global levels, I will, in the following 10 months, investigate how much smaller but still very significant entities, municipalities, can best support clean energy scale-up. Though I will only focus on CT, my findings may directly apply to municipal governments, businesses, and individual households at a much larger scale.
What could impede local adoption of clean technology?
Aside from cost, our ability to adopt cleaner technologies depends upon our administrative institutions’ adaptability. Before studying for my degree in Environmental Management, I managed operations for several large international foreign assistance programs. Many people point to project design, staff, and budget as the drivers of a successful program. From my experience, I learned how donor and organizational regulatory requirements and national capacity of our in-country partners are just as influential for achieving project targets.
How does this apply to the adoption of clean energy technology in CT? Cost is a major factor, and also the ease with which our regulations and permitting systems allow residents and municipalities to make transitions to cleaner energy will affect the speed and the overall number of projects that are installed. In order for a town to install an anaerobic digester or wind turbine or for a household to install a solar PV panel, they must receive state and local approvals and permits. Permit fees can be significant relative to the cost of the new technology, and the lengthy timeline and permitting review processes can deter individuals and business owners from investing in clean energy systems.
You recently graduated from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies; what advice would you give to students interested in the environment policy?
Do not only take only policy courses. As a student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, as in many other academic institutions, you are surrounded by remarkable research led by faculty and your peers. Metrics in academia are usually associated with publishing in a high impact journal. As someone interested in policy, you have the opportunity to show how research at your university can be translated to the policy arena.
If you are interested in, for example, how nutrient or metal contamination affects our waterways and resource stocks you will find several faculty members who identify and measure the impacts. This sort of project makes for a great story which may only be gleaned and measured through academic research. Now pair that with classes that help you map out the stakeholders, identify alternatives, and perform cost and decision analyses. Those that have both the knowledge and passion for a subject and the skills needed to affect change in business and policy will be the ones who will be most effective in the environmental field today.
Danny leading an abbreviated waste composition study of the PET plastic stream at a CT Materials Recovery Facility in July 2014 for a report to CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on the state’s Beverage Container Redemption program.