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2008-2009

Alumnus Energetic About Wind Power

Faced with rising energy costs and a challenging economy, communities across the U.S. are seeking ways to harness renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Andrew Stern '90, president of New England Windpower, Inc. and co-founder and director of Action for Clean Energy, Inc., has joined the movement to help people go green. Stern visited WPI on Oct. 2, to talk to students and faculty about "Energy, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and a Green Environment—We can have it all."

Much of Stern's work has focused on helping communities such as Hull, Mass., convert some of their energy needs to wind power. Hull, a long peninsula of a town on the South Shore, jutting into Boston Harbor, is the second-most congested town in the Commonwealth. Hull has installed two windmills that produce more than 10 percent of the town's electric energy consumption. These windmill projects include a 10-year renewable-energy credit program with Harvard University, Stern explained, and have won several awards from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Stern is working with town officials on a plan to install four more windmills offshore. He also is working with Native American tribes in the Great Plains on a project to install windmills that would power cities on the East Coast.

Through Action for Clean Energy, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit focused on helping citizens and communities "get green," Stern is also involved with the development and application of a variety of renewable energy sources and approaches. For example, he noted Ecosphere Technologies, Inc. and its Ecos LifeLink product, a portable system that delivers clean energy, water, and satellite communication all powered by solar and wind power.

"Energy demand is not going to go down, not in this country and not worldwide," Stern said. He argued for casting the net far and wide for innovative ideas for solutions to the energy problem, citing the untapped energy in water currents and biofuels as examples.

The students and faculty who gathered at Atwater Kent Laboratories for Stern's talk engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about the pros and cons of wind and solar power, the engineering and efficiency of the wind turbines, and the resistance to wind power in the U.S. According to Stern, one reason for the lack of enthusiasm for wind power in the U.S. is that the federal government has not provided incentives for it—to consumers or manufacturers. Without public policies encouraging wind power, he said, manufacturers won't ramp up their production of turbines, which keeps costs high.

"I'm not saying the federal signal is the only thing we need, but it's a big factor in the equation."

Persuading communities to embrace wind power is all about sales, Stern said—know your audience, tell them what the project is, what it will cost, and what it will produce. Stern hosts many events and tours in Hull, showing others how wind power has made a positive impact on that community.

Stern, an electrical engineering major with a computer engineering minor, traced his work on energy issues to his days as a WPI student. For his Major Qualifying Project, he worked on a solar-powered vehicle that was entered in the GM Sunraycer USA, a solar-road race from Orlando to GM Technical Center in Warren, Mich.

"That project took what we learned in the classroom and applied it to what we accomplished, which was completing that race in 11 days," Stern said.

For more information about Stern's work, visit www.hullwind.org, www.actionforcleanenergy.org, and www.newenglandwindpower.com.

October 9, 2008

 
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