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Harnessing nature

Fall graduate researching renewable wind energy at Grenfell Campus

Teaching and Learning

By Melanie Callahan

For new fall graduate Nick Mercer, harnessing renewable energy is not just about sustaining our energy needs.

It’s all about preserving the environment he treasures.

Fall convocation

Mr. Mercer collected his master of arts degree in environmental policy at Memorial’s Oct. 6 session of convocation in Corner Brook. He completed a bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies at Grenfell Campus in 2014.

From Stillwater Lake, N.S., Mr. Mercer is an outdoors guy who was drawn to a program that allowed him to turn his passion into a career. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies in geography and environmental management at the University of Waterloo.

Nick Mercer says Newfoundland and Labrador's energy future is in wind power.
Nick Mercer says Newfoundland and Labrador’s energy future is in wind power.

When he first arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador to attend Grenfell, it only took him a short time to realize that wind energy would be the focus of his research.

“I simply couldn’t believe how hard the winds would blow,” he said. “This led to my undergraduate independent research project, where I completed an analysis of renewable energy policy in the province. Being hooked on the west coast of Newfoundland and Labrador — and the Grenfell community more generally — I decided to continue with graduate studies within the Environmental Policy Institute.

“Inspired by lessons from my master’s thesis, and experiences in Newfoundland and Labrador, my dissertation research focuses on socio-economic aspects of renewable energy development in remote Indigenous communities throughout Canada.”

Still relying on fossil fuel

Newfoundland and Labrador has the strongest potential for wind energy development of any jurisdiction in North America; despite this, the province is currently ranked last among Canada’s provinces in installed wind energy capacity, says Mr. Mercer. Furthermore, the province still relies on fossil fuels for upwards of 30 per cent of its electricity, and the provincial government relies on oil royalties for as much as 31 per cent of total revenue, Mr. Mercer adds.

He began asking the simple question: Why is this so? Considering the significant potential for renewable energy development, why does the province remain dependent on the development and consumption of fossil fuels?

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council scholar

Mr. Mercer was awarded the SSHRC Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship to fund his research project titled Barriers to Renewable Energy Development in Newfoundland and Labrador: A Case Study of Wind Energy Applying the ‘AKTESP’ Framework for Analysis.

Through interviews with stakeholders from academia, the community sector, the private sector and government, Mr. Mercer learned that the most pressing barriers were political/policy-related issues, economic issues and knowledge-related barriers. A key outcome of the project was an “energy transition framework” for the province. This framework consists of seven key policy recommendations that may help the province reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

Next steps

Now that the research project is complete, Mr. Mercer is in the process of preparing journal articles for publication. He is the primary author of a paper being submitted to the journal Energy Policy, and will present his findings at five upcoming conferences.

“Grenfell offers opportunities to students that simply don’t exist elsewhere.” — Nick Mercer

His research has also been extensively profiled in the media, and he won first place overall in a business competition related to some of his ideas.

His Grenfell experience was been a major contributor to his academic, professional and personal experiences, he says.

“Grenfell offers opportunities to students that simply don’t exist elsewhere. As I student, I always had immediate and friendly access to supportive supervisors and staff who went above and beyond to help me achieve my goals.

“A key thing that Grenfell taught me was to not be afraid to put myself out there. Be it applying for grad school, a new job, a research grant — there is always an army of people at Grenfell who have your back to help you achieve your goals.”

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