California has mandated that in just eight years, 33% of the state’s power must come from renewable sources. It’s an ambitious—and, some would say, essential—goal in a world of dwindling oil and gas reserves and escalating carbon emissions. But it’s also a welcome opportunity for the College of Engineering and Computer Science and its Energy Research Center, which sponsored its first-ever conference on renewable energy and energy storage on June 2.
The inaugural California Renewable Energy and Energy Storage Technology Conference was a gathering of policymakers, industry representatives, faculty and students interested in the many facets of alternative and renewable energy and its critically important counterpart, energy storage. About 65 people attended the all-day event, which featured panel discussions, keynote addresses, a student poster session and a tour of CSUN’s renewable energy facilities. High-powered and prestigious speakers laid out the future of energy in California as well as research avenues that students can pursue.
The morning session was devoted to renewable energy, including a plenary address by Andrew McAllister, a member of the California Energy Commission, who talked about the interrelationship between the regulatory, technological and practical engineering aspects of attaining the 33% renewable target. The lunchtime speaker was state senator Alex Padilla, an MIT graduate in mechanical engineering who worked in industry before turning to politics. Padilla represents the San Fernando Valley in Sacramento and has introduced many pieces of legislation relating to renewable energy and the carbon footprint. The afternoon session focused on storage technologies, which are essential if the vision of the Smart Grid is going to become a reality and also if renewable energy is to go mainstream, since it ordinarily is available only sporadically, depending on weather conditions. The keynote speaker was Imre Gyuk of the U.S. Department of Energy, who has directed the Electrical Energy Storage research program for the past decade and also supervises the $185 million stimulus funding for grid-scale energy storage demonstrations. Additional conference speakers were Tom Brown (Digital Energy), Jim Ermer (SpectroLab), Jay Keller (Zero Carbon Energy Solutions), George O’Connor (Pratt and Whitney, Rocketdyne), Dave Wallerstein (SolarWorld Americas) and Phil Roberts (IONEX Energy Storage Systems).
“The purpose of the conference was twofold,” explains Hamid Johari, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the college’s Energy Research Center, who organized the conference along with Abhijit Mukherjee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “We wanted to focus some attention on the efforts at CSUN to integrate various renewable and alternative energy projects on campus and to engage faculty and students in leading-edge technologies.”
Adds Mukherjee, “We also wanted to bring together people from academia, industry and government so they could exchange ideas and learn one another’s perspectives, and also to showcase the work done at the Energy Research Center—to demonstrate that we are serious about it.”
The conference, which was a great success, reflected a growing emphasis within the college on renewable energy. “As a college of engineering, we want to support innovation and teach students about new technical areas,” says Mukherjee. “We want to focus the curriculum and train students so when they graduate from CSUN, they can find suitable jobs in the field of renewable energy.”
Plans call for making the conference an annual event and expanding it to include broader representation, such as CSU and UC faculty and students who are working on alternative energy and storage specifically applicable to the California mandate. The date for next year’s conference has tentatively been set for Friday, April 26, and expectations are high.
“Energy is a key issue, and we foresee growth,” says Mukherjee. “Enrollment is going up, and we have a large influx of graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in the field of energy. The conference has made it official that we are doing business in this area.”