Steve Kalland, director of the North Carolina Solar Center, has worked in the renewable energy industry for more than a decade as a policy analyst and a corporate lobbyist. RESULTS asked him to discuss the growing interest in alternative energy sources and the changing role of the Solar Center.

R: What did you think when President Bush, during the State of the Union address, pledged support to developing more alternative energy sources to break what he called the country’s addiction to oil?

Kalland: We immediately knew we were going to be buried in work because everybody was going to start looking at what the Center’s researchers have been doing for years. We felt the President’s decision was timely and was good for NC State because of our visibility and expertise. We are now getting calls from universities across the country trying to set up energy centers and wanting to find out how we do what we do.

R:Can you summarize what you do?

Kalland: We are the state’s leading outreach and extension operation for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and alternative fuels technologies and public policy. We started as a true solar center, encouraging the use of passive solar heating systems and photovoltaics. But over time, we’ve stretched into wind and fuel cells and biofuels, and we’re now getting much more active in energy efficiency and industrial process efficiency.

We provide a lot of direct, technical assistance on renewable-energy technologies to builders, homeowners, architects, and companies. We administer the state’s green buildings program, NC HealthyBuilt Homes, which promotes sustainable design and production. We also maintain a nationally recognized database of renewable energy incentives for the U.S. Department of Energy, which we’re expanding into energy efficiency credits as well. That is a kind of tech transfer operation on the policy side. It helps proliferate ideas nationwide and pass information onto consumers.

R: Is the new competition from other universities good or bad?

Kalland: There are limited dollars for these activities in a university setting, so new players make the competition more intense for funding. The good news is that, as there’s more attention to alternative energy, the pie gets bigger. The federal government and other sources seem to be providing more funding.

R: How much of your work is research-oriented, and how much is public outreach?

Kalland: We have long been an extension operation, serving in the role of information collection and dissemination and technology assistance. Increasingly, we’re looking at new technologies being developed by research faculty at NC State and working in partnership with them as their real-world vetting mechanism. We’ve teamed with the Department of Chemical Engineering, for example, on a biofuel project where we put the pieces together for the necessary field work. We want to do that with more departments.

The University has a lot of basic science programs and a very well-developed extension and outreach program that focuses on technical assistance. But what’s often missing is that middle piece, where you take the lab research and start scaling it up and demonstrating it. That’s a piece that fits squarely in the rubric of NC State, and I feel the Solar Center can be a key part of that. We certainly have all the expertise at the University to make that happen, so we’re working on a coordinating institute to bring the pieces together, aid collaboration to scale up the technologies, and get them into the real world.

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