Thursday, December 8, 2016

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Good Day Sunshine

Imperial Valley campus puts Mother Nature to work.
By Gina Jacobs

“Use what your mama gave you” is the premise at San Diego State University’s Imperial Valley campus, where “mama” is Mother Nature, and what she’s given is a nearly unlimited supply of sunshine.

In a region that averages 360 days of sun each year, what better use of that natural resource than to become ground zero for one of the largest renewable energy initiatives in the West: one that could ultimately revolutionize a community.

The idea has been brewing in Brawley for years, given the Imperial Valley’s potential as an area of energy generation and its location near a major metropolitan area of high-demand, in this case, San Diego.

A $1.7 million grant from the White House’s Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge gave the idea legs by supporting the establishment of a Renewable Energy Generation Training and Demonstration Center on campus.

The center will help create a thriving green energy technology industry in the Imperial Valley region by building renewable energy demonstration sites for companies to test their ideas and innovations; installing a power plant simulator to provide technical skills training for power plant managers in solar, geothermal and traditional installations; and expanding the pipeline of demonstration technologies with specific focus on small businesses owned by women, minorities and disabled veterans.

“What we are witnessing is a fundamental economic transformation,” said David Pearson, Ph.D., dean of SDSU’s Imperial Valley campus.

The Imperial Valley economy has long been dependent on agriculture, but with a persistently high unemployment rate near 30 percent, the region is overdue for a change. SDSU is poised to be the engine of its comeback.

During a visit to the Imperial Valley campus in December, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce Matt Erskine lauded SDSU for “the innovative work that is being done to create new jobs and advance the region’s competitiveness.”

Already the campus is partnering with industry and the public sector to kick-start the initiative. Most recently, the campus cemented relationships with the Imperial Irrigation District and Sol Orchard, a private company that specializes in solar photovoltaic (PV) power projects. These partnerships will give students hands-on experience with three different types of solar technology.