Universities' solar future illuminated at UC Merced symposium

UC Merced inaugurates daylong conference.

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comDecember 10, 2011 

A group of researchers met at UC Merced on Friday to talk about some of the latest solar research and its potential impact.

"Solar energy has the potential, and it's showing its potential, to be a major contributor to solving the world's problems," said Sarah Kurtz, interim director for the National Center for Photovoltaics and principal scientist for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "The sooner we can move to renewable energy, the sooner we can divorce ourselves from the increase in prices that we see -- for example, the price of oil."

Kurtz was among several speakers during the first UC Solar Research Symposium. The daylong event was attended by more than 100 people in the industry, students, faculty and staff.

It's important for universities, not just companies in the industry, to get involved in research to learn about new technologies, Kurtz said, "so that students coming out can immediately contribute to the work force in a meaningful way."

Research universities have always played a role, but that role is even more critical now, said Ron Durbin, executive director for the UC Advanced Solar Technologies Institute, based at UC Merced. "Companies are spending less for research and development, so that makes it more important than ever that research universities, like UC Merced, become engaged," he said.

That's exactly what universities are doing, said Prab Sethi, senior project manager for the California Energy Commission. Universities are no longer doing just basic research, they're going into the next level of developing the technologies as well, he said. "That has also helped to start up new companies and that leads to more jobs and the development of more technologies."

In California, there are several targets that need to be met by 2020. One is to have 33 percent of the state's energy coming from renewable sources, Sethi said.

Sethi, who is involved with the Public Interest Energy Research Program, said the program is doing its best to help the state stay on track to meet those targets.

"We are trying to help these companies to come up with the technology to develop technologies so that they can go to the marketplace," he said.

There are still many opportunities for the development of renewable energy, Kurtz said. "Embracing renewable, whether it's solar, wind or whatever, will help the world to be a better place to live in," Kurtz said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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