Built in 1904 in the Fall Creek gorge, Cornell’s first hydroelectric plant served to provide renewable energy to Ithaca’s campus. More than 120 years later, the plant generates only two percent of Cornell’s total electricity, according to Sarah Zemanick, director of campus sustainability office.
Environmentalists really seem to get a bad rap. I’m not talking about eco-terrorism or the occasional highly offensive PETA advertisement — I’m talking about image. No matter who you talk to, liberal or conservative, their idea of an environmentalist always seems to be the peace-sign-throwing, carrot-munching, Yusef-Islam-AKA-Cat-Stevens-looking hippie. I suppose it’s partly our fault; after all, I do have a few tie dyes kicking around in my closet. But generally speaking it’s always the same story: someone brings up clean energy, and the politicians and public roll eyes because another old beatnik took a moment between blunt hits to talk about how we’re all connected to nature.
Cornell has been chosen to play a leading role in the push to update America’s crumbling infrastructure. Patricia A. Hoffman, the Assistant Secretary at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability — a branch of the Department of Energy — announced in late August that Cornell was one of five universities chosen to receive a grant for research into how to mend America’s beleaguered power systems.
An aspect of the Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Initiative — which, on top of striving to make baseline improvements to the nation’s energy grid also seeks to make the system more open to renewable energy sources and energy efficient structures — the grant totals $1.8 million to be split between the schools. Alison Kennedy, senior advisor at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, summed up the GMI as “a comprehensive DOE effort to help shape the future of our nation’s electric grid and solve the challenges of integrating conventional and renewable sources with energy storage and smart buildings, while ensuring that the grid is resilient and secure to withstand growing cyber security and climate challenges.”
As stated in 2015’s Quadrennial Technology Review — a report on the nation’s energy needs produced by the DOE — recent natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy have made the need for an updated, more reliable and more responsive energy grid all the more prescience. Kennedy pointed to this need and numerous other problems currently facing America’s power systems.
“Factors include a changing generation mix, evolving consumer needs, and growing recognition of expectations for a resilient and responsive grid in face of natural, or man-made, events,” he said. He also mentioned other issues pointed out in the QTR, including the need for new manners of detecting failures in the system, as well as the adoption of smart grid technologies.
For the first time in 15 years, the intake pipe for the Lake Source Cooling project — a low energy system that channels deep water from Cayuga Lake to cool the University’s chilled water cooling network — will be cleaned. Since the pipes were first put in place in July 2000, so many zebra and quagga mussels have covered the pipe’s surface that the amount of water flowing into the plant has significantly decreased, according to Lanny Joyce, utilities and energy management director. To tackle the cleaning, Cornell hired engineering consulting firm Makai Ocean Engineering and diving contractor Global Diving and Salvage, Inc.
The Lake Source Cooling team plans to clean the pipe from Thursday to Oct. 19, pending the weather, by forcing a brush through the pipe and pushing any debris that has accumulated out into Cayuga Lake. This method pushes the mussels back into the lake and it causes no adverse environmental impacts, Joyce said.
The Sustainability Hub, an umbrella organization composed of several student groups, announced recently the formation of the Sustainable Investment Coalition. The Coalition will seek to promote the investment of the University’s endowment, approximately $5 billion, in companies that employ sustainable practices.