Environment New Mexico unveiled their 10-point plan that aims to assist colleges and universities with the transition to using 100 percent renewable energy on Tuesday at a press conference at the University of New Mexico.
“Our message today is clear: colleges and universities across the country are situated to lead the charge in transitioning to a 100 percent clean, renewable energy future,” said Sanders Moore, the state director of Environment New Mexico Research and Policy Center.
The plan, titled “Renewable Energy 101: Ten Tools for Moving your Campus to 100 Percent Clean Energy,” consists of 10 options to help institutions in New Mexico establish a 100 percent clean, renewable energy system.
“UNM has the ability, and the knowledge, to lead by taking bold steps to shift to clean energy and greatly reduce pollution,” Moore said.
The plan includes facts and strategies about solar, wind and geothermal energy collection and also addresses the storage of renewable energy and general strategies for making campuses more energy efficient.
Moore said, because New Mexico is the second sunniest state and the 12th windiest, the state should be a national leader in renewable energy.
One square meter of solar panels in Albuquerque would generate more than double what they would produce in Berlin, Germany, said Dr. Ganesh Balakrishnan, the associate chair of UNM’s department of electrical and computer engineering.
“The investment is very well worth it,” Balakrishnan said.
Moore said that higher education institutions are highly influential and hotspots for innovation.
As New Mexico’s flagship university, UNM should “be at the forefront of this transition,” she said.
“Accelerating the development of renewable energy technologies can save money, provide learning opportunities and help colleges and universities achieve their climate goals,” Moore said.
A recent report by Environment America said colleges and universities in the United States have more than 20 million students enrolled and spend more than $15 billion per year on energy.
When it comes to using 100 percent renewable energy, “we have the technology to achieve this goal,” said Harper Gamble, a sophomore majoring in economics with a minor in sustainability studies.
The city of Albuquerque has committed to acquiring 25 percent of the city’s electricity from solar energy by 2025, resulting in an estimate of $3.6 million in savings, Gamble said.
“If UNM invests in renewable energy, those savings could be used for other educational purposes,” he said.
Renewable energy is one of the few segments of the economy that are actually growing in New Mexico, Gamble said.
“As a native New Mexican and a student thinking about my future, I am optimistic about this growth and the potential for jobs in the solar and wind sectors,” he said.
Balakrishnan said one reason it is important for universities to usher in renewable energy resources is because there is a cohort of students who could potentially be trained in the field.
“You could have engineers and people who are ready to go to work for this emerging technology for the country,” he said.
In the past, the storage of renewable energy has been one of the main challenges to large-scale green energy projects.
“There is a very strong emergence of lithium ion technology for grid-based energy storage, and I think that could be a key player in allowing (renewable energy) technologies to truly become a replacement for fossil fuels,” Balakrishnan said.
Moore said the first step for UNM would be to commit to taking action on renewable energy and then putting together a coherent plan.
“In 2009, UNM committed to being a carbon-neutral campus by 2050,” she said. “We haven’t seen a lot of investment in the past handful of years, so we would like to encourage UNM to step up the game and lead the pack for renewable energy.”
Moore said Environment New Mexico has started to ask students to sign petitions advocating for UNM to move towards using 100 percent renewable energy.
“I think college students really understand that renewable energy is our future and that we need to make the transition as quickly as possible,” she said. “We just need to continue demonstrating that support to UNM.”
Holly Olivarez, a first-year transfer student majoring in earth and planetary science, said it is the public’s responsibility to educate themselves and be able to have these conversations.
“I think we really need to change this message that one person can’t make a difference, rather than thinking, ‘Well the big guys aren’t doing it, so whatever,’ I really think it’s time for that to change,” she said.
Madison Spratto is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Madi_Spratto.