CSUN renewable energy conference attracts top minds

Thomas Mancuso

California’s energy commissioner Andrew McAllister addresses renewable energy conference at CSUN. Photo credit: Thomas Mancuso/Staff Writer

California State University Northridge college of engineering hosted some of California’s most innovative minds for the California Renewable Energy and Storage Technology Conference, Saturday.

Notable speakers included California’s energy commissioner Andrew McAllister, Senator Alex Padilla, and interim CSUN president Harry Hellenbrand.  The conference focused on renewable energy sources, the challenges surrounding their implementation and the storage of the energy they produce.

CSUN served as a center for this discussion given its successful history with renewable energy sources and its status as the fastest growing undergraduate engineering college in the state, according to Dr. S. K. Ramesh, dean of engineering and computer science.

“Renewable energy has had a huge impact on the school, we have made a lot of changes involving both the Physical Plant and the curriculum. We have to provide for a small city; 40,000 plus people are here on campus,” said Hellenbrand.

In 2001 CSUN and Solar World, a major solar panel producer, constructed a 225Kw panel array over a parking lot on the north side of campus.

The project was headed by then Physical Plant Management administrative analyst Tom Brown. Brown said that students from the college of engineering participated in the planning and design for the project.

Ultimately the solar panels were so successful they have paid for themselves within two years and have since provided the campus with free energy.

“The total cost of the project was about $1.9 million, but with the $1.6 million in government incentives at the time the school only paid a net total of about $300,000 to finished the project,” said Brown.

Since the first sustainable energy project, CSUN has been a leader in renewable energy in California, with three active solar panel groups, a fuel cell system complete with a chiller plant and subtropical rain forest.

The fuel cell system provides energy to the campus, about 1.2Mw, and the adjoined chiller plant used to cool the nearly 700-degree-fahrenheit exhaust turns that heat into further usable energy used for air conditioning.

The resulting mixture of potassium chloride, which acts as a natural fertilizer is then put into the soil near the system.   Tropical plants thrive in the humid air caused by the water vapor an additional waste material from the fuel cell process.

Commissioner McAllister said all of the disciplines should participate in the discussion about energy conservation.

“There is a multidisciplinary need to educate students with regards to renewable energy, and a need to have a series of courses that can orient students across disciplines about energy consumption and hopefully get them thinking about it in regards to their own individual disciplines,” said McAllister.