Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Up and running...

This is the first of many diary posts for our 2010 Spring Break travel seminar on renewable energy. Eleven students and one professor from Unity College in Maine will travel to the UK's amazing Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), Machynlleth, Wales. We will be there for five full days. Many of the students have never traveled abroad before. All are very excited as the weeks and days before our trip ebb away.

The primary reason for our trip is technology transfer. Unity College is heavily involved in the development of renewable energy in Maine, and already has a large number of demonstration facilities and test sites. We partner with many Maine organizations, such as Maine Rural Partners, Efficiency Maine, or Fox Islands Wind, to name a few, to deliver community service renewable energy education, outreach, and technical assistance.

Examples of the kind of work we do including providing the services of faculty and students to our local weatherization scheme, providing expert anemometry to local community-owned wind power proposals, ensuring local and home-grown food is used in our own dining services, or providing local foods, hoop-housing, and horticulture expertise to our local elementary and middle schools.

CAT, for its part, is a recognized leader in such work in the UK, and provides many of the same kinds of services on-site and off-site, either directly or through spin-offs such as the Eco-Dyfi community organization. Eco Dyfi actually has many parallels with our own Unity Barn Raisers.

But there are many things that CAT does a lot better than we do. The CAT site is the kind of living, learning laboratory for renewable energy and sustainable living that we would like our Unity College campus to be. CAT makes very good use of its sustainability demonstrators and interpretive efforts for visitor education, while Unity College doesn't even have a sign pointing to our Jimmy Carter solar panels or the Unity House.

Obviously we can do better.

Other items of strong Maine interest:

CAT's community-owned wind turbine
might be a model for similar Maine efforts.

CAT's micro-grid
, if implemented on Maine islands and peninsulae with poor electrical power reliability, would be a great thing.

Business start-ups in the Dyfi valley area as a result of CAT efforts: could Unity College in concert with local partners such as Unity Barn Raisers and the Unity Foundation have the same kind of impact?

So. Fairly serious stuff, isn't it? And important, as Mainers figure out how to implement a 21st century energy economy sponsored primarily using indigenous Maine resources like the sunshine that falls on the land, the wind over our hills, the tides in the Gulf of Maine, or forest products from Maine's managed woodlots or wild forests.

It's a lot of air-miles and train miles to get to CAT for a few short days. But the climate emissions will be offset, and we will learn a lot that we can bring home to use in Maine.

Of course, the students are hoping to have a little fun. It is spring break after all, and they could have gone to Florida instead.

So watch this space for pictures, updates and movie clips of our activities. In the next few days, as we build up and get ready to go, we will begin posting diary extracts, useful links, and other interactive web-ware, so even if you, the blog reader, especially other Unity College students, staff, and faculty and the families of the eleven students on the trip, can't come with us, you can find out what we're doing and follow along.

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