Chris Babcock, SDM ’13: Systems Thinking for Energy Challenges

Chris Babcock February 6, 2013

Chris Babcock believes the solution to specific energy problems requires a deep understanding of the overall energy system.

Babcock, who has several years of experience in the wind energy field, earned his BS in biomedical engineering with a concentration in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester. He received a scholarship to study for a fifth year after receiving his bachelor’s degree. During that time, he focused on renewable energy technologies and sustainability.

After college, Babcock went to work for Second Wind, a company that uses sound technology sensors to measure wind speed and other wind characteristics up to 200 meters off the ground — about twice as high as previous sensors allowed. This information aids in efficient planning, financing, and operation of wind generation facilities.

The United States is second only to China in installed wind energy capacity. "Wind energy is one of the fastest growing slices of the energy economy," Babcock said, and explained there are many reasons for this growth. For example, a wind generation facility can be built relatively quickly and its project life cycle is typically about 1-2 years. In contrast, it takes 10-15 years to build a nuclear plant. In addition, wind farms can be sited near population centers. For these reasons, wind generation is also expanding in nations such as Brazil, India, and China, where infrastructure is needed for rapidly growing population centers.

Nonetheless, there are obstacles to the growth of wind generation. It is a variable resource—some days are windy and others are not. Storage and distribution of wind energy is expensive. To deal with this, Babcock said, "we have to develop a more intelligent energy system, and that’s what I’m interested in building."

As a product manager at Second Wind, Babcock splits his time between technical and managerial activities. His desire to strengthen his business skills first led Babcock to seek out a master’s program. Initially he enrolled in a program specific to energy systems, but he decided after one semester that that program did not have the academic rigor he was seeking.

After hearing about the System Design and Management (SDM) program, he did some investigation and decided to apply. Babcock feels that SDM’s combination of engineering and management, as well as its focus on leadership, innovation, and systems thinking, will enable him to strengthen his business skills and also help him achieve his long term goals. Babcock said he is passionate about the energy challenges that we all face, and he looks forward to connecting with people in the MIT energy community, as well as gaining insights from SDM fellows in other industries.

Babcock, who enjoys running, biking, and backpacking in his spare time, said he is looking forward to taking what he learns back to Second Wind. He will continue in his job while pursuing his degree. "It will probably be a lot of work," he said, "but I like that kind of challenge."

Chris Babcock
Photo by Dave Schultz