Almost two year ago Sonia Yeh switched her home in the high-tech region Silicon Valley and work at the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of California for Mölnlycke and a visiting professorship based at Chalmers Department of Energy and the Environment.
“I always have felt this strong sense of passion and obligation to study energy and environmental issues, and use this knowledge to help make more informed decisions by policymakers and by everyone of us, toward a more sustainable planet”, says Sonia Yeh, researcher in energy and transportation and for many years an advisor to politicians and stakeholders on climate policies in California. She currently serves as Fulbright Distinguished Chair Professor in Alternative Energy Technology.
The need for knowledge exchange between politics and science is huge. In California, Sonia Yeh has played an advisery role to policy makers and stakeholders, informing California’s energy and climate policies. Her mission and goal were to give politicians and stakeholders critical knowledge and tools to make informed decisions and smart policy choices toward a more sustainable, better and cheaper energy and transportation system. Under that capacity, she has also worked with policymakers and stakeholders on energy issues globally, from biofuels policies in the United Kingdom and the EU, palm oil in Malaysia, oil sands in Canada and sugarcane biofuels in Brazil. The issues vary significantly in between the different countries.
“In Canada, they are concerned about the extraction of oil sands, which has a large environmental impact while it is an important economic resource. In Brazil and Malaysia the discussion is about whether growing sugarcane and oil palm for biofuels production will devastate forest and peatland and lead to huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions and other ecological damages.”
The aim of Sonia Yeh’s research is to understand the challenges of future energy and transportation systems, linked to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. It's about getting a more effective and energy-efficient transportation sector, reliable supply of energy and to reduce our environmental impacts.
“The issues I deal with are challenges around transportation and energy resources, and identifying the right policy tools to address these challenges. Coming to Europe, I am interested in learning how these issues are discussed within the EU and particularly how policies are adopted in a region as multi-faceted as Europe. California has the advantage of being the leader of global innovations in policy and in technology such as electric-drive vehicles. That’s why we have the best climate policies and high penetration of electric vehicles.
On the other hand, Europe has many advances in terms of electric sector and transportation: Nordic countries have a fairly low-carbon, high-renewable grid; and unlike California, Europe is not as dependent of cars. So you have the advantage of quickly integrating transportation innovations at large scales, transforming smarter cities at a much faster pace than we can in the U.S.”.
From now on, professional engineers and planners can take part of her knowledge to make better decisions for the future. Starting this year, Sonia Yeh is the Program Director of the web-based course “Global Energy Challenges” at Chalmers Professional Education.
“This course is about showing the full extent of the challenges we are facíng to make the right decisions. The participants get a good insight into the different types of energy such as solar, wind, nuclear, biofuels and electric vehicles.”
“You get to know how each technology works individually and what the challenges are when you integrate them in a system, especially at a historically unprecedented rapid rate in order to minimize the long-term impacts of climate change from fossil emissions.”
The course participants will be presented a large amount of information and knowledge, but the most important thing for Sonia Yeh is that they become critical thinkers who will be able to use the skills we teach in class conducting their own calculations, and forming their own opinions.
“This is about being able to quickly analyze “facts” and “arguments” presented in reports and news articles, to think critically and debate your case. On top of that, you should also able to listen and ask the right questions when facing new initiatives and decisions.”
Although Sonia Yeh has moved to Sweden her collaboration with California continues.
Together with several top researchers in Sweden and policymakers at California Air Resources Board, she is now working on starting a formal collaboration with scientists and policymakers in California.
“The idea is to share experiences and knowledge on technology and policies that will make our State and Country more climate friendly and our communities smarter. There are many similarities as well as significant differences with the challenges we face and we have a lot to learn from each other”
By: Ann-Christine Nordin Photo: U.S. Embassy Austria