example, a solar energy system in California's Central Valley will
produce a lot of power on a hot, cloudless summer day, and you can
count on that throughout most of the season. But during the winter,
while that system will still produce substantial amounts of energy, the
weather conditions are more varied and it's harder to predict how much
electricity will be produced on a day-to-day basis.
communities strive to produce more of their power renewably, they will
need to understand these odds and have a plan for bringing available
resources online in order to operate efficiently and cost-effectively.
At the University of California, Merced, professors in the School of Engineering along with the campus' facilities management division are creating a portfolio of renewable energy options that will help UC Merced continue toward its goal of being one of the greenest campuses in the United States.
Merced has received a three-year $1 million Renewable Energy Secure
Communities (RESCO) program grant through the California Energy
Commission's Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program.
Approximately 51 applications were submitted by businesses, universities, utility companies and other institutions throughout California. UC Merced's proposal, "Piloting an Integrated Renewable Energy Portfolio for the UC Merced Community," was one of 13 to receive funding.
RESCO grant will help the campus integrate three of the most promising
renewable energy technologies that will help us meet our "Triple Zero"
commitment," said John Elliott, UC Merced's assistant director of
energy and sustainability and project manager for the UC Merced RESCO
"The first is energy
efficiency. For the time being, it is much cheaper to save energy than
to generate energy. Second is solar. The Central Valley has enough sun
that it could just as easily be called 'Solar Valley.' The third is
waste to energy conversion using plasma technology. This is a promising
and flexible approach that will be used to efficiently generate steam
on demand to supply the campus needs."
Merced's Triple Zero commitment is to produce as much energy as is used
from renewable sources, eliminate landfill waste and produce zero net
greenhouse gas emissions, all by 2020.
of Engineering professors Carlos Coimbra and Gerardo Diaz, along with
the undergraduate and graduate students working in their engineering
laboratories, will develop research and collaborate with Elliot by
focusing in the areas of solar forecasting and plasma gasification.
is a unique collaboration between engineering professors and facilities
staff," Diaz said. "UC Merced is literally a 'living laboratory' due to
the number of state-of-the-art technologies being tested that are
actually used to provide services during the normal operation of the
For the efficiency
component of the RESCO project, investigators will develop a monitoring
system that will allow the campus to define and maintain efficiency as
a renewable resource. "UC Merced has already built very
energy-efficient buildings on campus, and we will be state-of-the-art
in actually monitoring and maintaining that energy performance."
of the work done will result in improvements and energy savings in UC
Merced's Science & Engineering Building, which includes highly
sophisticated research laboratories. Its electricity usage accounts for
40 percent of the campus bill and it consumes the most energy of all
Coimbra's role in the project is to advance UC Merced's capability to
rely on solar energy as a primary component of its energy portfolio.
His Solar Forecasting Laboratory will further develop a precise method
of solar forecasting.
By using data
collected from two solar observatories at UC Merced and UC Davis, and
integrating these data with information from a new 8.5-acre, 1-megawatt
solar field currently under construction at UC Merced, Coimbra's work
will help identify optimal sites for placement of solar energy systems
throughout California. Moreover, the UC Merced solar forecasting model
will be able to evaluate with unprecedented accuracy the solar resource
available for power generation.
of my doctoral students, Ricardo Marquez, who was born and raised in
the Central Valley, is refining a sophisticated forecasting model that
is already powerful enough to predict accurately the solar resource
available in the next five minutes, the next hour, or the next day, and
this information is critical to the expansion of solar power
utilization in California," Coimbra said.
Diaz's lab will examine methods of converting waste to energy through
plasma technology. He will work with Foret Plasma Labs to examine how
to use waste, also called reject, from the reverse osmosis water
filtering process and turn it into steam to supply the campus demand.
system is unique among renewable resources, as it can be turned on and
off with the flip of a switch. He is also working with the Associate
Director of Campus Services Bob Avalle, to evaluate the practical
aspects of using the campus waste stream as an energy source.