June 26, 2019 | 87° F

Academics discuss updates on alternative energy options

Photo by Dennis Zuraw |

The solar panels on Livingston campus have helped Rutgers achieve its goals for saving electricity.

Storage logistics remain crucial for solar cars to compensate variations in sunlight, said Dunbar Birnie, a professor in the Department of Material Sciences and Engineering. 

Birnie, a faculty advisor for Rutgers Solar Racing Car Team, gave a presentation on grid resilience as part of the “Fifth Annual Alternate Energy Symposium,” hosted by the Rutgers Engineering Society and Rutgers Alumni Association on Nov. 5 in the Fiber Optics Building Auditorium on Busch campus. 

The RES, the alumni association of the School of Engineering since 1949, hosts the symposium on a yearly basis to share updates in the alternate energy industry. 

Various speakers addressed issues in solar energy, energy storage and energy waste at the symposium, said Richard Cestone, president-elect of the RES.

Nearly 120 people signed up for the symposium, he said. Most of them are University alumni, students and New Jersey-licensed engineers.

Rutgers is an authorized institution to provide professional credits to engineers, Cestone said. 

Industry experts have discussed research into alternate energy sources for the past five years, said Aaron Richton, president of the RES. 

“State law requires professional engineers to take continuing education credit in order to continue their license,” Richton said. 

The symposium is a public event that opens to students, alumni and professionals from all disciplines, he said.

“It is a great opportunity for alumni to come back to campus and see advances in technology since their graduation, “ he said. “It also welcomes alumni in other areas who might otherwise [be] interested in alternate energy.”

Michael Wallendjack, a bioenvironmental engineer from the class of 2006, attended the symposium out of an interest to learn more about the alternate energy industry. 

Wallendjack worked as a water infrastructure engineer after graduating, he said. He is considering looking into alternate energy as well.

“It is a pretty interesting topic,” he said. “The symposium sort of serves as my introductory lectures to the field.”

The symposium is also a great opportunity for current undergraduate and graduate students to connect with people in the profession, Richton said.

The RES supports the school and its students, he said. An event such as the symposium brings alumni back on campus to connect with students looking for help in their coursework or who are interested in the subject.

“Alternate energy is a timely topic for Rutgers School of Engineering alumni, students and faculty to engage themselves into,” Richton said. “Every level of energy industry in the nation is looking for innovations for current problems engineers go out and face.”

Andrew Powers is the program manager of the PSE&G Solar 4 All Program, which is focused on developing a 125-megawatt solar capacity directly connected to the power grid. 

Powers discussed current challenges in distributing solar generated power for the grid, including variable sunlight in different weather or season and increased voltage.

“Adding battery storage can mitigate variations in solar power, but storage is expensive,” Powers said. “Power smoothing and power shifting can be used to fill in low generation and peak generation to evening usage.

These methods lack market incentive and are uneconomical, he said. 

Due to the challenges engineers are facing and resolving, the future of solar energy is uncertain, Powers said. 

“We bring together people who are interested in alternate energy,” Cestone said. “Not only what is happening now in their careers, but also what could be done on the road.”

Weini Zhang

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