Renewable energy is the future of UCLA
When the U.S. was again considering drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to offset the impending energy crisis, Steve Brye, project manager at the L.A. County Metropolitan Transport Authority, did something he deems in the spirit of a middle-aged man buying a sports car. He personally funded the installation of $11,000 worth of rooftop solar panels on a small Catholic school in East Los Angeles in an attempt to show that alternative forms of energy exist.
“People don’t do a cost-benefit analysis for a sports car. It’s time for Americans to just buy some sustainability because they want it,” he said.
According to Brye and others connected to the effort to make UCLA more sustainable, green alternatives can be affected through the support of research collations, education and, perhaps most importantly, the will of the campus.
Tony Pereira, a UCLA doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, said an average solar-powered rooftop in California, at $4 per uninstalled solar cell or $8 to $10 per solar cell installed by a professional, would pay for itself in four to five years or less with a government rebate. Furthermore, he said UCLA engineering Professor Yang Yang is currently developing plastic solar cells that will bring prices down. He said people who think the idea is too expensive are misinformed.
“You have to look at the whole equation. ... Resources are not counted, waste is not counted,” he said.
Solar power is generated when utilities are in highest demand – in the middle of the day, said Pereira. In terms of the energy to make these solar cells, he said that in about the same time it takes to pay them off – four to five years – the cells provide back the energy that was required to make them in the first place. This, in turn, provides alternative energy that is pollution-free for 25 to 50 years. Pereira noted that increasing the use of solar energy is a viable option for UCLA’s campus.
“There’s no reason I can see that buildings need any energy except for lighting, and even lighting can be reduced,” he said.
About a year ago, Pereira founded the Institute of Sustainable Energy at UCLA, working closely with Professor Shahram Sharafat and with financial support from Brye to try to find alternative energy sources in the setting of a research institution.
“Sustainability is a very urgent matter, and UCLA should have a center of excellence for it,” said Pereira.
He said UCLA could be a more sustainable campus if it brought in organic and local foods to Ackerman Union, heated the pool at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center with solar energy (something he said they are working on), or harnessed, albeit a negligible amount of energy, from people working out at the Wooden Center.
“The resources we have are finite. Everything we do comes at a cost. ... We need to start looking at some of these engineering problems,” he said.
Some of these problems Pereira cited include finding a way to reduce the amount of energy that goes into cooling and lighting buildings on campus and to improve public transport. He noted that UCLA’s campus is not particularly bike-friendly and lacks access to a subway station, saying the campus could look into electrical transportation.
Brye said in the past few years he has noticed both the deepening of peoples’ understanding of the role of public transport and a general increase in its use in a city that has been historically attached to car culture.
“We are obligated to get people to start using the bus right now,” Brye said.
One of the hardest things about trying to implement changes to better the environment is the existing infrastructure, Pereira said.
Rob Kadota, assistant director for the Office of Residential Life and committee chairman of the On-Campus Housing Sustainability Committee, added that it is easier to build green buildings than to retrofit existing ones. He said UCLA hopes to get certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a private green building rating system, after its Rieber Hall renovation.
Kadota said that as of last January, UCLA started using Athens Services, a waste management contractor through which UCLA is now able to compost the food waste from De Neve Plaza. As a partner in the L.A. Food Waste Program, Kadota said UCLA hopes to eventually compost waste from all campus dining facilities.
The committee also focuses on educating students about saving energy and recycling waste properly. Kadota said in addition to its “Turn it Off” campaign that aims to get students to turn off their electricity during school breaks, the group will employ trash-sorting facilitators to challenge students to properly throw away their garbage.
Bettering campus sustainability is not something that can be resolved through conferences, said Pereira, but rather by setting goals and sustaining effort to achieve results.
“In the U.S. we have the know-how, we just need to find a way to do it. UCLA needs to designate this as a permanent effort. ... Let’s make (UCLA) sustainable,” he said.
Published: Monday, August 11, 2008