At the World Resources Forum in Beijing, Penn’s Iliana Sepúlveda Shares Lessons on Energy Subsides

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Media Contact:Katherine Unger Baillie | | 215-898-9194November 2, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — To a room full of academics and Ph.D. students in the notoriously polluted city of Beijing, the University of Pennsylvania’s Iliana Sepúlveda 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.

Sepúlveda is a second-year student in Penn’s 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 “Resources and the Green Economy."

“I’d participated in some events at Penn but never had made a presentation in an international forum,” Sepúlveda said. “It was exciting.”

Research that Sepúlveda had begun in two classes her first semester at Penn fit into the conference’s 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 Sepúlveda’s home country of Mexico has a program that provides subsidies to households that replace old appliances with “greener” 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 “triple bottom line”: 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.

Sepúlveda’s 20-minute presentation was well received and met with several questions.

“Some I had thought about, but others expanded my view on the topic,” she said. “For 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.”

A grant from Penn’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the School of Arts and Sciences supported Sepúlveda’s 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 International’s Student Reporter, a media organization that supports student journalists covering economic and environmental global events. Sepúlveda also participated as a blogger.

Appropriately for a student of environmental issues, the aspect of the trip that left the strongest impression on Sepúlveda was Beijing’s poor air quality.

“I really enjoyed the trip, but the pollution is terrible,” she said. “They burn massive quantities of coal. You can see it and you can feel it.”