Energypath 2015 Energy Camp and Conference Recap
I attended the Energypath 2015 Energy Camp and Conference held by the Sustainable Energy Fund on July 20-24 at the University of Scranton in the beautiful town of Scranton in Pennsylvania. Energypath brought together more than 200 educators, students, industry professionals and policy makers interested in clean energy. The week-long event consisted of a 3-day crash course in a specific area of clean energy of your choice, as well as a 1.5-day conference with sessions on technological and policy aspects of clean energy development. While it was a regional conference geared towards clean energy development in PA and the Mid-Atlantic region, I have learned a lot about clean energy and energy efficiency that is applicable to U.S. national and international contexts. I’ll briefly recap my experience in both the Solar PV camp and the conference in this post.
Solar PV Camp
I chose to participate in the “Solar PV” Energy Camp, a crash course on solar energy taught by Prof. Vera Cole of Pennsylvania State University and Bill Hennessy of Berks Solar. The instructors also lead a local clean energy industry association, the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA) which advocates renewable energy production, energy efficiency and sustainability through industry events and education outreach. The three-day crash course was an amazing blend of classroom instruction and hands-on work experience.
In the mornings, the instructors gave detailed lectures about solar energy, including the basics of solar PV systems, system design, site assessment, battery backup, electricity generation, policy & financial incentives, and environmental benefits. It was a crash course that consisted of the science and technical aspects of solar PV, as well as the social (energy independence) and environmental aspects (decreasing carbon emission). For instance, I learned that in the state of PA specifically, the time to recover the costs of installing solar PV module for a residential home is usually around 10-12 years, and the residents have the option of selling the electricity back into the grid for credits from the utility providers during peak hours. The lectures were very interactive, with many students raising questions or commenting about the materials discussed in the lecture slides.
In the afternoons, the instructors gave us hands-on lessons on solar PV arrays installation and testing of solar PV systems. We were put into groups of five people, and each team was responsible for assembling a solar PV array, and conducting measurements of its performance. It was my first time doing it with my own hands! Prof. Hennessy also showed us how to install and use the microinverter which converts the direct current generated by the PV module to alternative current which can be used for household appliances. Prof. Cole also brought us a sun oven which uses solar energy to cook food, and we had delicious solar-powered popcorns and bread. I think such a technology as solar PV would have great potential in countries where access to traditional fossil fuel is scarce by lack of geological endowment, or constrained by lack of pipelines, or disrupted due to political instability. I especially like the quote that Prof. Cole gave us, “When there is a huge solar energy spill, it is just called a nice day.”
The 3-day bootcamp was a mini-course that gave us in-depth exposure to the clean energy technology. The energypath conference following the camp consisted of several keynote speeches and conference sessions on tracks related to each specific technology and related policy/educational issues. The luncheon speaker on Thursday, Mr. Bill Maclay spoke on the net-zero energy design which achieves zero energy usage in building projects that he has worked on. The dinner keynote speaker, Mr. Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office, spoke on energy efficiency in building construction, specifically the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home program. The Friday morning speaker, Mr. William B. Rose of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign spoke on how to improve energy efficiency in restoring historical buildings. The conference sessions that I went to were also very informative. In the energy policy session, Pennsylvania Secretary of Planning and Policy John Hanger and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer talked about the implementation and effects of Act 129, which took effect in 2008 and requires PA Electricity providers to reduce electricity consumption and peak demand. In the micro hydro session, Prof. Phil Hofmeyer from the Morrisville State College explained the technology concepts, the system installation, financial costs and site selection in detail with demonstrations of key tools. In the education session, Prof. Nick Truncale and Prof. Jessica Nolan gave a lively overview of the sustainability workshop at the University of Scranton which trains faculty members to incorporate sustainability in curriculum and course materials across different disciplines.
Overall the week-long event was an excellent experience for me to get exposed to both the technical and social aspects of clean energy development, which I’ve always had an interest in while writing my dissertation on the international trade of the energy-critical minerals of rare earths. The Sustainable Energy Fund also kindly provided me scholarship of free housing and food during the event (I got to stay with three other amazing girls in a college dorm with similar interests in sustainable living and technologies). This annual event gives scholarships to educators and students, and I’d very much recommend fellow academics and students interested in learning more about this topic to apply for the scholarship and attend the event in the future. Whether you are just interested in the state of renewable energy in PA, or in the U.S. national-level development, or the global alternative energy technology development in general, you will come back equipped with new knowledge, networks and wonderful memories.