URI launches energy partnership for research, education, outreach

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KINGSTON, R.I. – July 31, 2007 – Renewable energy resources, energy efficiency, and energy economics and policy issues will be the focus of a new initiative being launched this fall at the University of Rhode Island.

The URI Partnership for Energy will establish an interdisciplinary team of researchers, students and outreach specialists to work in collaboration with national, state and local governments, energy providers and the business community to develop locally based solutions to energy issues.

The partnership was formed when it was discovered that several independent groups on campus were studying energy issues from diverse perspectives, according to partnership directors Brett Lucht, professor of chemistry, and Marion Gold, director of the Cooperative Extension Education Center.

“I was looking to move the Cooperative Extension from a landscape focus to a sustainability focus, and energy seemed to be an appropriate direction to take,” said Gold.

“We were coincidentally working in a similar direction, and our interests and expertise compliment each other nicely,” added Lucht.

After investigating other energy-related activities occurring at URI, it was clear to Gold and Lucht that a wide range of expertise was already in place. A number of faculty, staff and students from URI’s colleges of Environment and Life Sciences, Engineering, Arts and Sciences, and Business will participate in the partnership.

According to Gold, the partnership will provide a mechanism for URI to stimulate new research projects, provide connections between projects, and help shape new ways of thinking about energy issues.

One key element of the partnership will be to work with state officials to identify priority research and policy issues for partnership members to address. The partnership directors also seek to establish a Rapid Policy Analysis Center that can quickly analyze energy-related issues and questions as they arise so policy-makers have reliable, non-biased information upon which to base decisions.

Another major feature of the partnership is an Energy Fellows Program, which will provide funding for a small number of undergraduate students to gain hands-on experience addressing energy issues through formal research and applied outreach efforts. Working in teams with graduate students and faculty members, the first 10 Energy Fellows will conduct a research or outreach project beginning in January.

“We’ve already heard from a number of students who are excited about participating and who want to become Energy Fellows,” Gold said.

Other programs the partnership will pursue in its first year include a monthly public seminar series; an annual energy forum featuring a nationally prominent keynote speaker; a statewide outreach campaign aimed at educating the public about energy conservation; an effort to increase energy efficiency on campus; and the acquisition of new technologies for energy research that will help make URI more competitive for federal grant monies.

“There’s a great deal of federal funding on energy issues available now,” said Lucht, “so we want to provide the link between the resources available and the researchers on campus who want to do the work.”

Initial funding for the initiative is provided by a $150,000 grant from the President’s Partnership Program, a University effort to increase interdisciplinary efforts in areas of research critical to societal needs. Established in 1995, the program has funded 10 partnerships to date.

Pictured above

Marion Gold and Brett Lucht, co-directors of the URI Partnership for Energy, and Tara Germond, URI outreach educator, display one of the solar tiles installed on the roof of the URI Outreach Center. URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.