Two news items crossed my desk on Monday, and they’re somewhat related.
First, Babson College is going to install a wind turbine generator.  Their objective is for the windmill to provide about 60% of the energy needs of one building — the exhibit hall at their entrepreneurship center.
Second, according to Reuters , there are a number of advances in electric storage battery technology on the immediate horizon.
Now, I’ve been working with enough different kinds of technology, for enough years, that I inherently distrust any technology news that’s expressed in the future tense. Still, I find the juxtaposition of these two items significant.
First, while Babson’s campus is fairly roomy for a smallish school, it IS a smallish school. Wind turbines aren’t just for Enormous State Tech any more. Nor are they only for Treehugger U — Babson’s best known programs are in business management, and the wind turbine’s power is going toward their (highly visible) entrepreneurship center.
Second, as was true back before rural electrification reached my grandparent’s farm, the heart of any wind power system isn’t the windmill, it’s the storage reservoir. Back in the day, that reservoir consisted of a box of 12-volt lead/acid batteries. Unfortunately, energy storage is only now getting much more advanced than my grandfather’s approach. However, if any one of the technologies described in the Reuters story pays off, energy storage efficiency will improve by an order of magnitude. And, when the storage problem is solved, the main objection to many truly scalable forms of renewable energy — it’s only available when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining, or whatever — goes away.
(BTW, the technology conference which spurred that story was in Monaco. Greenback U didn’t see fit to send me. Maybe next year. <lol>)
In a nutshell, then, renewably-generated electricity is a set of technologies which are hot in the marketplace, which offer tremendous educational opportunities — no matter the size or nature of your institution — right now, and which have the potential to create a sea change in the electrical generation industry.
At Greenback, about one undergrad prospect in three now asks about our on-campus sustainability programs. We have a pretty good song to sing, already. But, if we had a wind turbine, ...