Expert touts renewable energy

Posted April 02, 2009, at 8:38 p.m.

BANGOR — There is hope that eventually consumers will rely on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, but it will take an increase in research and development funding and a faster way to develop consumer-ready products, a solar-power expert said Thursday during a University of Maine-sponsored conference on energy.

Larry Kazmerski, director of the National Center for Photovoltaics at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., gave the keynote address to about 200 people at the daylong Haskell Energy Conference at the Hilton Garden Inn.

“There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a lot of money going into renewable energy technology over these next couple of years,” Kazmerski said. “With the stimulus package already out there, those investments are already starting. Part of the [national economy] recovery is based on investment in renewable energy.”

The conference is named after Robert N. Haskell, a 1925 University of Maine graduate who was former president and chairman of the board of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. He also served in the Maine Senate and Maine House of Representatives.

Kazmerski was a member of the UMaine electrical engineering faculty in the 1970s. During his time at UMaine Kazmerski did groundbreaking research in thin-film photovoltaics for solar panels. Photovoltaic solar panels are designed to absorb sunlight and convert it into usable energy.

He touched on the history and current status of solar power, which is a $35 billion business worldwide. Solar-power companies and interest in solar power was more prevalent in China, Japan and Germany, but the U.S. is starting to catch up.

If solar power is to make a real dent in the energy market, however, R&D funding levels must be increased. In addition, the time gap between lab discovery and consumer-ready product is too long, Kazmerski said.

“It just takes too long right now for almost all the renewables to have some advancement,” he said. “In many cases, it’s 12 to 15 years and we just cannot have that time span between what might happen here in a lab at the University of Maine and when [the product] becomes commercial.”

UMaine also released Thursday a white paper supporting the implementation of a Maine Smart Grid, or MSG, which is an effort to modernize electricity transmission and encourage economic development. All the major Maine electric utility companies, including Central Maine Power Co., Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., Maine Public Service Co. and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative have announced their intention to participate.

UMaine is seeking funding for development of a Maine Smart Grid Center for research and technical training.

Other speakers Thursday addressed Maine’s role in renewable energy issues in New England, and advances in wind energy and tidal energy.

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