Clean Energy, from the Ground Up: Meet Elwin Lim
Planetary Solutions in Clean Energy - Internship and Fellowship Program (PSiCE) offers summer research and internship opportunities to students at Yale who are committed to advancing and pursuing a career in the clean energy field. This year we spoke with students in the initial cohort to learn about their inspiration, goals, and experience through the program.
For YSE Class of 22’ Graduate, Elwin Lim, one way to educate and spread clean energy ideas is to target people in ways that they can see the benefits — through real estate and housing.
Prior to joining the 2022 PSiCE summer cohort, Elwin gained an interest in clean energy through various positions in Singapore where he grew up and completed his undergraduate degree. During that time, he saw the challenges facing the energy sector in the small island nation which led him to the doors of YSE and CBEY.
Through the internship, Elwin teamed up with Inclusive Prosperity Capital (IPC) to address the energy needs for multifamily housing.
“My main project for this internship was to interview minority- and women-owned multifamily housing development companies, to identify how IPC’s loan products could better enable them to build and maintain more energy-efficient and resilient buildings. Women- and minority-owned developers are often committed to doing impactful work in their communities, so we want to make sure that, as a historically exclusionary industry, that IPC supports these organizations.”
Elwin says his goal in all of this is to contribute to a just energy future, something he says we can achieve in our lifetime. But in order to do so, the key is to ensure marginalized communities are included front and center and not left behind.
“A just energy future is undertaking the decarbonization of our system, switching over to renewable energy sources as fast as we should be. But at the same time, making sure that under-resourced communities and historically marginalized communities are not left behind, and that the power structure of the existing systems is not entrenched or reinstated in the new system. Communities should get the support they need, and they can be equipped with their own forms of agency in this new energy system.”
Having gathered experience in both qualitative and quantitative research engaging in climate work at various organizations, his skills have led to the culmination of ideas and practices from multiple industries, applied in his summer internship. Integral to this is understanding what has happened in the past with clean energy, and knowing what not to do again.
However, using real estate to propel the idea of clean energy at the most basic level, is not without its problems. While Elwin is confident in the potential to transition to clean energy, he understands there are obstacles that currently stand in the way.
“There are a complex set of barriers to decarbonizing multifamily buildings, and you can’t really point to any singular solution to solve it all. Affordable multifamily buildings tend to have complex financing structures and limited cash flow because of rent restrictions, so it can be challenging to take on energy efficiency measures because of the perception of risk associated with taking on upgrades with high upfront costs or debt.”
He adds that there are also important information gaps that need to be better addressed.
“There is also a certain level of uncertainty about technology. Technology for low-carbon buildings, such as heat pumps, has evolved rapidly over the last decade, but real-world and up-to-date data on the costs and benefits of high-performance building measures can be difficult to come by. Especially as a resource-constrained developer with many different aspects of the business competing for their attention, it's hard to know what the latest and greatest is in technology and where to get reliable information from.”
Elwin applauded the collaboration he received while working alongside the rest of the PSiCE team at CBEY and credits Dr. Rob Klee for the connections he built while completing both his internship and graduate degree. Elwin notes that the equity-focused clean energy finance sphere is currently small and that it was a great experience to learn from other people and organizations working towards the same goals and to get a clearer view of the constellation of actors in this field.
CBEY is proud to congratulate Elwin as a graduate of the inaugural Planetary Solutions in Clean Energy (PSiCE) cohort.