Current trends in energy and education seem to pull large universities in two different directions. On one hand, schools are required to cut costs while expanding educational opportunities. On the other hand, they’re facing growing pressures to use less energy and transition to more sustainable – and often costlier – forms of power production.
The Oregon Institute of Technology is accomplishing both goals with solar power. OIT began its renewable energy initiative a few years back with the installation of a small geothermal plant, which already provides 100 percent of the school’s heat. With the soon-to-be-completed installation of an array from Solar City – along with another geothermal facility – the school’s Klamath Falls campus will become the first in the nation to generate all of its electrical power on-site.
The school’s existing geothermal plant has already saved it a bundle on energy, and the new installations will make the Klamath Falls campus even more cost-efficient and sustainable. “We’ve seen significant cost savings,” said Charlie Jones, Dean of Engineering, Technology, and Management. “But we also have a big push on sustainability within the university. We view ourselves as environmentally friendly, and we want our students to support environmentally friendly projects.”
Solar and geothermal facilities have also had big impacts on OIT’s educational programs. In 2005, it became one of the only schools in the nation to offer an ABET-accredited renewable energy engineering degree, a hot commodity in current and future job markets. Students get hands-on instruction with the on-campus hardware, and OIT has even arranged for internships with Solar City. While the program started off small with only 10 students, its enrollment has grown to 250 per year. So far, every one of those participants has landed a job within six months of graduation.
Given the public and private push towards renewable energy, universities around the country may want to consider similar initiatives. STEM-heavy universities need program that are relevant to future job markets, and even liberal arts colleges need to keep their energy costs down. Plus, as Jones noted, sustainable power practices are a “responsibility of all citizens of the world.”