MIT Energy Work

Steve's interest in energy and engineering led to plans for additional studies at MIT.  In February 1989, Steve earned a Masters in Technology and Policy at MIT with concentrations in electric power systems planning, energy and the environment, and the use of technical information in complex decision-making processes. The Technology and Policy program at MIT is an elite degree program that attracts the best and brightest who want to work on technologies in a wider focus.  Steve thrived in the program and went on to spend his career to date — more than twenty-eight years — at MIT. Three years ago, right on cue, the MIT twenty-five year chair arrived on the porch. Steve started as a research assistant and power systems analyst at the MIT Energy Laboratory in 1988 and soon became Director of the Electric Utility Program (1993-1998) where more than thirty prestigious organizations work to develop collaboratively funded projects to assist with power systems analysis and planning and emissions reduction.

 

Steve's role as Director for the Analysis Group for Regional Energy Alternatives (AGREA) at MIT involved working on projects in Portugal, Norway, Mexico City (looking at integrated energy, transport and lifestyle effects on pollution, health and productivity), Shandong China, Switzerland, Argentina (working on water resource planning), the United Kingdom, and even New England looking at a broad array of scenarios around new generation technologies.

 

In 2005 Steve become Director of the AGS Energy Flagship program at the MIT Laboratory for Energy & the Environment. Steve was responsible for coordination of Energy Flagship activities across four universities: MIT, the University of Tokyo, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  The program aims to identify and communicate cost-effective and implementable portfolios of energy technology and policy options to local and regional decision makers.  Steve helped to move MIT's  Sustainable Energy Systems and renewable work forward by co-supervising PhD candidates and taking part in research projects and also in the formulation of the doctoral program itself.   In 2007 Steve brought all of these skills together in the energy systems joint program between MIT and major technological universities in Portugal.  This cross Atlantic partnership is designed to improve research in energy systems with a focus on integrating renewable resources like wind, solar and tidal into energy grids.  This joint research included a major focus on strengthening graduate energy and technology programs at Portugal's leading technology institutes such as the Institute of Science and Technology in Lisbon, the University of Coimbra, and the University of Porto.  As more renewable sources of energy are implemented to offset fossil fuel production and use, a different architecture built around fast and flexible generation will be necessary. Since it will shift energy loads between various energy sources, every component of the system requires a high level of coordination. Steve continues to be a major lynch pin in this program and puts this thinking into real-world practice with the Green Island project. Sponsored by the MIT Portugal Program, a collaboration between the Portuguese government and companies, Portuguese university partners and MIT-affiliated companies, Steve is helping the Azore islands to invest in a reliable energy solution based on renewable sources replacing more traditional petroleum sources. “The Azores have geothermal, solar, and wind sources of energy. The real challenge is looking to see how they fit together on a day to day and year to year basis to see how the islands can evolve to be energy self-sufficient."  

 

Steve led the green islands program designed to use the Azores as a test bed for renewable integration and as a platform for other islands that today are dependent on imported fossil fuels. Recently, it was rewarding to see Portugal listed as one of the first countries to run four straight days only on renewable energy (wind, solar and hydro generated electricity) thus  producing zero emissions. As recently as 2013, renewables provided only about 23% of Portugal’s electricity. By 2015 that figure had risen to 48%. 

 

In all MIT projects Steve marries a set of technical skills around wind maps and energy simulation, with an interest in appropriate technologies, and an understanding of the policy environment and what can actually be adopted.  Steve's interest has been moving "best practice" to "next practice" to create a constant learning loop around demand management, energy efficiency, and the latest in renewable energy technologies. 

 

Today Steve serves as Head, Analysis Group for Regional Energy Alternatives (AGREA) and continues as a distinguished researcher and mentor in a variety of MIT energy initiative programs including the Portugal program.  Steve's research focuses on optimizing renewable sources with a focus on wind and solar, energy security, operational needs of the power network, and market dynamics of a competitive electricity market.  In 2014 Steve shared his views on how to build a bridge to a more sustainable energy future in the following TEDx talk.  He later gave additional background on his talk. These videos give a hint of Steve's powerful communication skills.  Steve is a frequent and popular speaker on all energy issues at many global forums. Steve's graphics illustrate important aspects of the difficulties of integrating solar and wind into energy grids and remain the Rosetta stone for experts and citizens seeking to understand the complex issues involved in energy trends and technologies

David H Marks

Goulder Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems, MIT

On a personal level Steve and I worked together as colleagues not as boss and worker.  Steve's ideas were always good and our good chemistry in discussions led to better solutions in the variety of overseas programs we worked on together.  So I was always amused when Steve referred to me as "his boss."    We were all so pleased when Alison came into Steve's life.  What a wonderful force of nature and their strong love is evident in every dimension.  

 

In the summer of 2010, we knew that Alison and Steve were to be married in the near future.  We were in Coimbra Portugal working with the local engineering school at that time and things were going well.  Suddenly on Tuesday Steve received word that Alison’s mother was in critical condition and that they would like to move up the wedding to that weekend so she could see it.  Steve came to me to ask permission to go back early.  Of course i said yes but remember thinking at the time that Steve did not have to ask as he was an equal member of the team.  I made it home in time for the wedding and Lil and i were so pleased to be part of the wedding. 

 

At the reception I gave a brief talk.  I was sure given Steve’s modesty that their families did not really know about what Steve did and how important it was.  So I gave them a brief sketch with all listening carefully and Steve squirming a bit in the spot light.  Aha,  I got him blushing from my praise.  We love them both so much and value them as special friends.  What great people and what a great marriage.      

Making Portugal Greener, with Steve Connors

Josh Jacobs

Director of Operations and Partner Integration, Leaders for Global Operations, MIT

I had the chance to work with Steve through the MIT-Portugal Program in 2007-2010. I lived in Lisbon for two years as the MIT “man in Portugal” and general facilitator and Steve was the driving force behind the Sustainable Energy teaching and research component of the program.  Like a lot of high-profile projects at MIT, the real results of MIT-Portugal depended on people like Steve taking a lot of time from their “regular” MIT roles and spending it with Portuguese faculty and students. Steve took on this role with a spirit of good humor, openness to possibility, and a good capacity to rise above bureaucratic and cultural headwinds. Steve quickly earned respect of his Portuguese colleagues through bringing to bear his experience and practical ability to manage research programs.

 

I think of Steve’s work in Portugal in terms of the time he spent to make real progress in sustainable energy, in particular in the Azores. We often met sitting in the Holiday Inn in Lisbon adjacent to the campus of IST, or in a classroom in one of the several universities all over Portugal that Steve visited, or one time, more distinctively, in the control room of an energy facility on São Miguel in the Azores.

 

For Steve it seemed like the upside of working with motivated students and faculty and bringing them into his life’s work of advancing sustainable energy always was greater than the downside of time spent away from family and colleagues and the many novel obstacles that we faced working on the MIT-Portugal program. The tenuous reality that some of the “Green X” projects had when they were announced gave way over time to the accumulated knowledge, relationships and data that Steve helped create through his selfless and good-humored work.

 

Even after I left the Portugal program I corresponded with Steve every now and then about whether solar energy might work for my house, and he unfailingly replied with expertise and with a sense of caring for my family’s needs.  Through all my interactions with Steve I had a sense of a man with a powerful desire to contribute to the world through building knowledge and connections among people, and a great sense of humor. These are often cited among the qualities that make MIT special, and Steve certainly embodies them.