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Land Grant Institution
New Sustainability Majors
Often when trying to understand a situation, it is first necessary to (at least) sketch an answer to this question: “How did we get here?” When it comes to Kentucky and energy, which includes the use of coal, this question is fitting. According to the Center For Applied Energy Research—hereafter CAER—Kentucky’s “energy research program began over twenty years ago,” which included “the development of technologies to produce fuels, especially transportation fuels, from coal.” The broader context, which occasioned such development, was the need for the United States not to be overly dependent upon foreign oil. However, as with all new attempts to provide resources for a growing nation, such needed to be done in a way that respected the environment. In fact, according to CAER, the U.S. Department of Energy was created to oversee these concerns.
Given Kentucky’s vast amounts of coal, the same soon became a locus for alternative energy sources. Hence, in August, 1975 Governor Julian Carroll by an Executive Order established the Kentucky Center for Energy Research. The placement and building of CAER was finished by July, 1976. So, very quickly Kentucky was established as the nation's leading program in energy research.
When certain environmental concerns over coal combustion and its disposal became a focus, the Coolside Project was created in 1991. Along the same lines, the aim at cleaner uses of coal, or one might say moreenvironmentally friendly uses, continues to more focused as newer technologies are explored and improvement upon already existing technologies is sought. As CAER puts it, “Concertedefforts are being made to diversify and develop technologies for the resolution of problems in wastewater treatment, as well as more traditional research in trying to resolve immediate or near-term problems faced by the coal, utility, and related industries.”
Observe that the above described situation—that is, the historical contingencies that converged to using coal as a means of energy and all of the attempts to use is more responsibly—seems to be driven by some sort of criterion that demands proper use. Or as someone who is environmentally informed might put it: there is a concept of sustainability in the background. Since this term is hard to define, here the official definition from the Office of Sustainability shall be used (there are two):
1) “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
2) “Local, informed, participatory, balance-seeking process, operating within its Sustainable Area Budget, exporting no harmful imbalances beyond its territory or into the future, and thus opening the spaces of future opportunity and possibility" (Richard S. Levine and Ernie Yanarella).
These comments on sustainability are offered as well as a means of expanding:
3) “One that values economic vitality, ecological integrity and social justice as equal components in the pursuit of development”
4) “We also understand sustainability to imply the development of responsible global citizenship.”
A concept of sustainability without any concrete action is useless. Thus, one should consider the following ways that UK is implanting its sustainability concept. First, and as already alluded to, the University of Kentucky has a nearly 40-year history in energy research, beginning in 1972 with a $400,000 grant from the Kentucky General Assembly to establish the Kentucky Coal Utilization Research Program at the University’s Institute for Mining and Minerals Research. That initial grant was the impetuous for the eventual establishment of the Center for CAER. CAER has conducted research in everything from solutions for the coal burning by product fly ash to collaborating with the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) to research algae as a possible renewable energy source.
The University also has certificate programs for undergraduate and graduate students at the Power and Energy Institute of Kentucky. PEIK develops student’s understandings the environmental, political and societal aspects of energy. PEIK is designed to prepare engineering students in various fields (including mining, chemical, manufacturing, and materials) with a well-rounded understanding of energy as it relates to their specific area of study. Along the same lines, the University has started numerous programs that are designed to reduce the overall energy requirements of the University—such as UK’s Delta Room, which monitors and adjusts UK’s electricity and heating requirements in real time, increasing overall efficiency.
UK has also recently endeavored on an ESCO, or Energy Savings Contract. These programs are contracted out engineering and optimization modifications for existing infrastructure. This program is not only environmentally sustainable, but economically as well. UK is insured through this program, if the energy savings are not consistent with the promises in the contract, UK is reimbursed. If the savings exceed that of the contract, UK is allowed to keep the savings, investing it back into the General Fund.
UK is in the process of launching several initiatives designed to educate and engage the student and faculty population. One initiative features a web interface that will give interactive models of typical UK facilities (e.g. an office, residence hall) where the user can selectively turn off appliances or adjust climate control to influence a real time meter that displays the cost of the current arrangement. A brilliant and simple way to educate personnel on why, for instance, a mini fridge in their office is unnecessary when there is a communal one down the hall. An additional aspect of the initiative is the incentive for individuals and departments to reduce consumption, with the result being a cash prize.
UK also operates an easily navigable and information rich website (sustainability.uky.edu). The website includes data on UK’s energy use, expenditure, and operations. The site also includes ways to get involved with UK sustainability, guides on personally reducing carbon footprint, and an explanation of current energy and sustainability research at the University. Furthermore, the University of Kentucky has become a fore runner in the development of environmental friendly research. The University of Kentucky has become recently been awarded $1.3 mil over two years from the Kentucky energy and environment cabinet to develop and refine carbon capture practices via the use of algae. The algae research is headed by the UK Center for applied Energy Research (CAER). In addition to CAER the department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) in the college of Agriculture has been promoting and researching different Bio-fuels that can help reduce the state of Kentucky’s dependence on oil. The BAE is involved with the education of Biodiesel and ethanol to the Kentucky citizens along with other efficient mechanization practices that help Kentucky produces improve their energy use.
Another way the University of Kentucky is exploring different avenues of energy production and
education is through the use of the solar house, developed in 2009 and entered into the solar decathlon. The solar house was developed by the University of Kentucky architecture department and continual education is being p[promoted by the BAE in helping Kentuckians making their homes more efficient. In addition to the solar house the universities charge blue campaign is helping reduce the universities carbon footprint as well as showing Kentucky the benefits of solar energy and their use.
However, UK can do more. Although UK is in the unfortunate position of only being able to buy electricity from a single utilities company, Kentucky Utilities, whose energy portfolio is 90% coal, 10% natural gas; UK does have alternatives for heating and cooling. Over $7 million is spent annually on burning coal and natural gas on campus. This could be mitigated or entirely eliminated if UK made a commitment to use geothermal energy for heating and cooling. The geology of central Kentucky makes this a feasible and affordable option.
NOTE: On the Final Production, all work cited material will be provided. There will also be a video interview involving Shane Tedder.
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