NAU launches energy solutions institute

Dry Lake wind farm

From bicycle-powered charging stations to supporting wind energy for schools, Northern Arizona University is putting power behind its renewable energy research through establishment of a new institute on the Flagstaff campus.

NAU’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Solutions brings together the university’s energy experts to expand involvement in research projects with national and international partners. The institute’s goal is to increase access to new technologies and shape energy decision-making in both the private and public sectors. Additionally, the institute will enhance the understanding of advances in the alternative energy industry.

“The university’s support allows us to broaden our education and outreach programs, and to develop stronger research partnerships with members of the renewable energy industry,” said Karin Wadsack, project director for the institute.

NAU’s engagement in wind, solar and biofuels renewable energy research will fall under the institute’s umbrella, with plans for developing improved energy utilization and other renewable energy technologies. To further this effort, NAU has hired a post-doctoral researcher to focus on technical research, proposal development and increasing collaboration with utility and industry companies.

The institute recently was awarded a contract with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to perform wave energy modeling research, work that will be performed by Adam Nelessen, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering. Nelessen served as a summer intern for the national laboratory.

“Our goal is to galvanize clean energy research at NAU, engaging our students and addressing problems of worldwide importance,” said Tom Acker, director of the institute and professor of mechanical engineering.

Additional technology areas in which members currently perform work are resource assessment and modeling; utility grid integration; behavioral, economic and policy research; and public education, from K-12 levels to policymakers. The institute houses the Arizona Wind for Schools project, a program supported through the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and recently received national publicity for a student-built bike-powered charging station.

The institute’s partners include national laboratories, universities, Native American tribes, renewable energy companies, energy utilities, foundations and non-profit organizations.