FOR ALL OF THE HUMAN suffering and economic pain inflicted by the Middle East wars and the skyrocketing petroleum costs around the world, there is a glimmer of hope on America's energy horizon--that is, America's colleges and universities are increasingly joining the race to explore renewable and alternative energy sources.
Remarkably, this new breed of energy colleges and universities has witnessed a virtual renaissance in energy exploration, process, and logistics. We are now seeing U.S. research universities partner with major energy providers to further energy exploration and yield as well as decrease production, refinement, and distribution costs. A scan of the academic energy environment provides an encouraging picture of higher education energy corridors now forming from the northeast to the southwest corners of the nation.
A POCKET OF GREEN
Consider the area around Niagara Falls, N.Y. It was the first region in the United States to harbor community-based energy sources. In the "City of Light," as Buffalo is known, the New York Power Authority has a 50-year successful track record of operating one of the nation's most efficient hydroelectric plants. Now, the power plant is forming a partnership with an ethanol plant and undertaking cogeneration initiatives to better meet the needs of the western part of the state.
Nearby, Niagara County Community College is exploring the development of new corporate and public sector utility courses and training programs as part of its long-range strategic plan. Significantly, NCCC's energy-related aspirations are focused on the several critical fields of renewable energy, alternative power, and environmental studies.
For its part, the University at Buffalo is offering courses in environmental studies and alternative energy systems that provide students with new core knowledge and energy-industry-specific competencies for assessing energy efficiency and environmental impact in the workplace.
In response to increased energy costs, Nassau Community College (N.Y.) is exploring the development of mission-complementary partnerships with local museums and hospitals to create an energy district that would recapture waste energy from local industrial sites. Ezra Delaney, vice president of administration and planning, says, "Colleges and universities must develop energy partnerships to gain necessary economies of scale, efficiencies in operations, and nonduplication of energy generation and development."
With gas prices on and off campus hovering between $3 and $4 per gallon in the spring 2006 semester, college and university faculty and students planned summer field trips and academic practica focused on developing renewable energy sources and solutions to bring back to campus in the fall.
By way of example, consider the renewable energy exploration of State University of New York, Canton faculty and field research students who are creating, designing, and building a solar-powered wooden boat to participate in the 2007 Solar Splash sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Beyond the interest to students, SUNY faculty are applying their practical research skills to out-of-classroom projects like power-plant operations, wind monitoring, and alternative energy sources.
As well, other Northeast colleges are discovering creative means to meet their current energy needs. Just consider Green Mountain College (Vt.). This tuition-dependent private college reportedly gets a significant part of its electricity from companies that run generators powered by methane gas extracted from cow manure. You heard that right: Cow poop is lighting the way for students at this small Vermont institution. "It's a perfect fit," says President John Brennan. "We're an environmental college. We're dedicated to environmental applications and renewable energy."
Higher ed insiders are beginning to perceive a national greening megatrend that is not likely to reverse itself--producing greener campuses and providing a halo effect in transforming today's energy knowledge towns into college towns before our eyes. …