Jeff Sward Helps to Engineer a Sustainable Future

Jeff Sward

Jeff Sward, Ph.D. candidate in Professor Max Zhang’s Energy and the Environment Research Lab in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, was always taken by the mystery of the natural sciences. It wasn’t until his first year of undergrad, when he was majoring in Physics, that he realized his true passion was mechanical engineering.

His interest in mechanical engineering was sparked by its link to renewable energy – the focus of the Energy and the Environment Research Lab. Throughout his undergraduate years, Sward was interested in the massive wind developments cropping up across the country which led him to apply to graduate school to study renewable energy systems.

Sward was drawn to the Sibley School for many reasons including the community of graduate students in the department, his advisor, Professor Max Zhang, and his love of winter. Marcia Sawyer, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Affairs, is a large reason for the tight community of graduate students in the Sibley School. She frequently brings the students together for academic-related and fun community-building activities.

Professor Zhang has encouraged Sward to pursue additional activities to enhance his education including founding the Cornell Energy Systems Club and taking an internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) – which improved and diversified his professional and research skills.

“He [Professor Zhang] has struck a good balance between allowing me time to work on projects while encouraging me to produce tangible outcomes,” said Sward. And tangible outcomes he has produced.

Sward’s research focuses on assessing electricity system impacts associated with transitioning to a clean energy economy.  He is working to make policies like the Green New Deal or New York’s Clean Energy Standard a reality. The Green New Deal, introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a congressional resolution that lays out a grand plan for tackling climate change. New York’s Clean Energy Standard aims to provide 70% of electricity via renewables by 2030.

To accomplish these policies, Sward is coupling a model of New York State's electricity grid with a weather forecasting model to uncover how evolving demands can be met in the coming decades using mostly or completely carbon-free sources of electricity. 

When asked to describe the Sibley School with one word, Sward chose fluid. “We have such a vast range of research going on within the same department, and the opportunities, exposure, collaboration, and conversations that this leads to feel quite unique,” said Sward.

After completing his Ph.D., Sward plans to enter the government or nonprofit sector to continue his work with renewable energy. “There is much technical work to be done to make the energy transition work, but with my background and personality, I feel that my place is in the thick of the decision-making processes,” said Sward.