‘Year of Energy’ Revs Up Research, Conservation

Gasoline selling for $4 a gallon. Instability in the Middle East and industrialization in China impacting oil imports. Greenhouse gas emissions accelerating climate change. This perfect storm of energy-related concerns led Chancellor James L. Oblinger to declare 2008 “The Year of Energy” at NC State University.

The chancellor’s move reiterated the University’s commitment to energy research and placed a new focus on energy use on campus. “Balancing North Carolina’s energy security in the 21st century with economic growth and environmental sustainability will require technological breakthroughs in multiple areas, closely coupled with realistic economic analyses and acceptable social policy changes,” Oblinger says. “The breadth and depth of energy research expertise and partnerships at NC State gives the University a special responsibility to be fully involved with energy issues.”

Oblinger began the Year of Energy by flipping the switch on one of North Carolina’s largest solar arrays, developed through an innovative public-private partnership and now providing power to the local electric grid. He also signed the University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to address the global warming challenge by modeling ways to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions and integrating sustainability in curricula. Calling on the entire campus to heighten its energy consciousness, he issued a “Million Dollar Challenge” to the 35,000 students, faculty, and staff each to conserve 15 cents worth of energy and water every day, aiming to save more than $1 million a year in campus energy costs.

Energy was the theme of NC State’s 2008 Institute of Emerging Issues forum in February, bringing together academic, industry, and government leaders to build a plan for North Carolina’s energy future, developing specific action items to provide secure, reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy sources
while promoting economic development.
Keynote speaker and NC State alumnus
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President
Al Gore, provided the research-based outlook of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on “a crisis of global proportions.”

“Over the next 50 years, the issues of energy are going to become more complex and more difficult to solve.”

The NC State Energy Council, a working group of faculty and staff, now strives to enhance energy research, academic resources, and awareness. “Over the next 50 years, the issues of energy are going to become more complex and more difficult to solve,” says Dr. William Winner, Energy Council coordinator. “We must step up our efforts to rethink the way energy is produced, distributed, and used.” Since the council was established, the University has adopted the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standard for all new construction. It has also become a partner in the EPA Energy Star program, an energy-efficient products and practices strategy that measures current energy performance, sets goals, and rewards improvements. From initial installations of efficient LED lights in campus buildings and parking garages to use of natural gas instead of oil for steam and chilled water generation to pumping biodiesel into fleet vehicles and Wolfline buses, energy-saving strategies are being adopted across the campus. NC State’s goal is a
20 percent reduction in campus energy consumption over a 10-year period.

“The breadth and depth of energy-related expertise at NC State gives the University a special responsibility to be fully involved with energy issues.”

While walking the energy conservation talk is essential, forging research partnerships is likely to make the
biggest difference in the energy picture of the state
and nation. By mid-year, NC State had been awarded
86 new grants with an anticipated total value of
$19.3 million. $64.3 million in new energy proposals is awaiting agency funding decisions. In September, the National Science Foundation announced NC State’s biggest Year of Energy success to date—an $18.5 million award for an Engineering Research Center for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems (see story on page 7). “We have a strong reputation in solar, nuclear, and hydrogen technologies, biofuels, and climate change, as well as energy conservation, storage, transmission, and public policy,” says Interim Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies Terri L. Lomax. “But there’s no question that 2008 will be NC State’s biggest year ever for energy research. Our faculty and students have really stepped up.”

Led by College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences Associate Dean Chris Gould, NC State also joined forces with Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and research and consulting firm RTI International to form the Research Triangle Energy Consortium, which uses its combined research strengths to address energy problems. In other key partnerships, Duke Energy and Progress Energy have each endowed named professorships and new energy research programs at
NC State, supplementing several other new energy-
related faculty positions supported by the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Our state is an importer of energy at a cost of about
$16 billion per year,” Oblinger says. “Reversing that equation even a little bit would be a long-term economic driver for the state. NC State will provide significant leadership in this high-priority area.”

This issue of RESULTS focuses on some of NC State’s latest energy research. For more energy stories, see our Summer 2006 issue at http://www.ncsu.edu/research/results/past.html.


Plug-in hybrid vehicleswere among the demonstrations of energy conservation on display on the Brickyard during NC State’s Energy Fair in January.

Chancellor James L. Oblinger discusses the need for more innovative approaches to energy production and conservation, such as the public-private partnership that led to the implementation of one of the state’s largest solar energy arrays linked to the electrical grid.