Energypath 2012 Conference

Empty dorm room. Unknown roommate. Campus map. Detailed yet confusing daily schedule of events. For just a moment, I am transported back to my first day as a nervous college freshmen anxiously lugging my bins of shoes and clothing up two flights of stairs. How do people make friends? Where are my classes? Did I brush my teeth this morning? But in my current scenario, it is four years later and I am settling into my room at DeSales University. Reason? Energypath 2012 conference on sustainable energy.

Energypath 2012 is funded by the Sustainable Energy Fund,a private non-profit focused on energy efficiency and education in the state of Pennsylvania. The conference brings together students, educators, and industry members in the field of renewable energy to discuss available options for sustainable energy and educates participants on the steps required for an energy path for the future of the country. The three-day workshop and two-day conference include hands-on educational seminars and keynote speakers by renown experts in their field. This year’s speaker was William Kamkwamba, the author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind–an autobiography about building a electricity-producing windmill in his home country of Malawi at the age of 14. His TED talk can be found here: How I Harnessed the Wind.

I spent the first three days in one of the energy bootcamps: Solar PV (photovoltaics). Tables were filled with college students, homeowners and experienced professions with a vested interest in the value of solar energy. As our instructors flipped through slides on wiring, installation, electric currents and incentive programs, questions flew about the ideal wiring size and difference between a main inverter and a series of microinverters. I sat between my electrical engineering friends and quickly realized my liberal arts education had not adequately prepared me for the technical discussion that seemed to be boring my peers.

We ventured outside to assemble our own solar arrays in small groups. There was a Penn State engineering student, a zero emissions homeowner, and a retiring/unemployed mechanical engineer. Together, we built the ground mount and attached the solar modules, mirroring the other eleven groups on either side. By the end of the camp, our assemblage of solar arrays was channeling energy through the inverter and into the grid. I was impressed with our ability to harness the sun’s power and even more impressed with my growing knowledge of AC/DC and the difference between a circuit in series or in parallel.

Small scale Aquaponics Model

Thursday and Friday were jam-packed with speakers representing sustainable energy companies, nonprofits, and universities. We heard from supporters of nuclear power, wind, solar, biogas and natural gas. Lutron explained the immense energy-saving power of light dimmers. Honeywell broke down a commercial energy audit. One woman presented the self sustainable system called aquaponics with the ability to provide fish and vegetable supplies to developing countries. John Jimison from the Energy Future Coalition believed a growing consensus among the American public would drive renewable energy as a realistic solution for Congress in building future policy.

Will we universally embrace the smart grid? Electric cars? Widespread solar and wind production? Reduced consumption? I don’t know. But Energypath sought the road paved with education and innovation so maybe someday, a chorus of voices will someday join together in a harmonious “YES!”

6:40pm I just read an interesting article about the removal of tar sands for oil in Canada. An Oil Rush Up North