Students Seek Renewable Energy Solutions

At first glance, the group that toured UC Merced earlier this week looked like typical students visiting campus for the first time. But they weren’t here to enjoy the scenery. There were looking at ways to get more power to the people -- renewable power.

Twenty-six students from seven universities in California and Denmark came to UC Merced as part of the 2009 LoCal Renewable Energy Summer Research Program. The program, now in its second year, was developed to allow students to collaborate on and study renewable energy solutions in an interdisciplinary format.

UC Merced’s participation in the LoCal program highlights another example of how as the first American research university of the 21st century, UC Merced is collaborating with other institutions, researchers and resources to collectively find solutions that will benefit not only the San Joaquin Valley and California but the world.   

The four-week intensive program, which started last week and continues through Aug. 21, allows participants to see state-of-the-art, industrial-scale renewable energy systems up close. This year’s focus is on solar, geothermal, wind and biofuel energy sources.

Six UC Merced students participated in last year’s program and traveled to Denmark with professor Roland Winston to learn about that country’s use of wind power. This summer, Danish students – along with other scholars from UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis – are in California to learn about emerging renewable energy technologies being developed in the Golden State.

UC Merced graduate student Uday Bali and undergraduate Kevin Rico, who both traveled to Denmark for last summer’s program, organized the group’s visit to Merced. The two packed a number of presentations, tours, lectures and field trips into four days.

Initially, the California trip was to include visits only to UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz. But the UC Merced students who traveled to Denmark last year presented such a strong group project, organizers amended this year’s agenda to include the system’s newest campus.

During a trip to Winston’s lab at Castle Facilities, the students witnessed a high-concentration solar photovoltaic device developed by Winston and his research team. The group heard how Winston came up with the design and how it will be used to generate electricity and provide solar daylighting effectively and inexpensively.

In another session, the group learned about UC Merced’s commitment to be the greenest university in the United States – and a model for others to follow -- by designing and constructing sustainable buildings that meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED™ certification standards.

The group also took a trip to Joseph Gallo Farms in Atwater to view the dairy farm’s methane digester, which converts manure into electricity.

Not all presentations were about science. The group also heard from Bill Andersen, assistant director of the Alliance Small Business Development Center, which is part of the UC Merced SBDC Regional Network. Andersen discussed possibilities of turning ideas into viable business ventures. Part of the LoCal program is designed to cover economic opportunities that can be developed around renewable energy technologies.

Morten Vanggaard, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Technical University of Denmark, said it was interesting and informative to see UC Merced’s research and projects involving alternative renewable energy. Bali said the students asked lots of questions and took notes to help boost their knowledge.

After leaving UC Merced, the students headed to UC Davis where they will spend the next several days, then to UC Santa Cruz for the program’s final week.

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