Examining China's Energy Future

For most NYU Abu Dhabi students, winter break is a time to relax, but for Songyishu Yang (Class of 2014), the December 2011 holiday also included a trip to Tunisia. The first NYUAD student to have a peer-reviewed paper accepted for presentation, Yang traveled to Hammamet to take part in the third International Renewable Energy Congress (IREC).

During the three-day event, which provides a forum for researchers and practitioners around the world to discuss recent developments in the fields of renewable energy, 115 participants from 32 countries gathered to attend a variety of sessions with scopes ranging from sustainability and energy sources to environmental forecasting, policies, and regulation.

Yang's paper, co-authored by NYU-Poly's Industry Professor of Philosophy Harold P. Sjursen, discusses water management in Chinese cities and puts forth the argument that energy conservation, factors of climate change, and water management should not be considered mutually exclusive. As Sjursen explained, the paper "asserts that the interconnectedness of all of these concerns is best addressed from the perspective of a naturalistic ecology."

Having done preliminary research during her freshman year on water management problems in China — in preparation for the AECOM Student Design Competition on water in urban areas—Yang developed her proposal with Sjursen's help during her time in New York City in 2011, when she attended the Polytechnic Institute of New York University's summer program and worked on Sjursen's research project, China's Energy Future.

The acute, costly, and devastating problem of floods in cycle with serious periods of drought that is plaguing China and other parts of the world is best addressed by natural, sustainable, or green approaches.

Songyishu Yang, NYUAD Class of 2014

Quick to perceive a connection between water management and the issues of energy use and climate degradation, Yang focused on two urban areas in China "deeply affected by the problems of climate change, such as the flood-drought cycle, whose remediation would involve non-standard and ecologically sensitive engineering solutions," Sjursen explained. "The thesis for the paper emerged from the research which indicated potentially significant correlations between ecological urban water management strategies and energy choices."

As Yang noted in her paper, "The acute, costly, and devastating problem of floods in cycle with serious periods of drought that is plaguing China and other parts of the world is best addressed by natural, sustainable, or green approaches." One such approach is the creation of green roofs — the establishment of open space designed to minimize rainwater runoff with the addition of water-collecting ponds — thereby reducing the demand for air conditioning and lowering emissions.

"This model conceives the city as an organism whose function includes the natural and sustainable exchange between the artificial built environment and the imitative natural built environment on the one hand, and on the other that which is perpetuated by the global natural environment," she wrote. "In this approach per capita energy consumption in the city will decrease, extreme (dangerous and destructive) conditions of excessive water and flooding will be moderated, and water will be conserved during periods of drought. The stress on existing drainage systems will be reduced and the problem of the backup of sewer systems in periods of heavy demand, leading to the intermingling of greywater and sewage, will be curtailed significantly."

Attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of Yang's proposal, Sjursen enjoyed working with the "brilliant, hard-working, and committed student."

As a Civil Engineering major with a concentration in Urbanization, Yang is poised to become an urban planner, and the IREC provided her with the opportunity to "discuss topics that I am fascinated by and receive critiques on my research," she said.