Turbines on Becton Provide Lesson in Sustainable Energy


Decades ago, researchers initiated the warning call that sustainable energy would be essential to the long-term well being of human society.  In 2009, our energy portfolio looks little different than it did a half century ago, with the exception that we use a whole lot more energy today. There is question over whether we will heed the warning in the face of global climate change or continue on an unsustainable path of increased demand and heavy reliance on fossil fuels.  

In March, Yale introduced the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, to be led by Rajendra K. Pachuari to foster interdisciplinary research, international collaboration, and partnership with industry – strengthening Yale’s role in working toward a sustainable energy future.

In addition to a number of sustainability projects that Yale has initiated on its campus are the newly installed 1000 Watt horizontal axis wind turbines on the roof of Engineering’s Becton Center. Tom Downing, project lead and the University’s Energy Manager, said that these “represent a visual statement of Yale’s commitment to greenhouse gas reduction.”

The set of 10 turbines, installed in April, are expected to generate over 25 MWh of energy per year – a little less than one percent of Becton’s high energy consumption – and pay for themselves in about eight years. “The project was not economically driven,” says Downing. They offer a unique pedagogical benefit for the community and Yale, and they do generate electricity that is used instantaneously within Becton. 

Both professors Ron Smith, Department of Geology and Geophysics, and Paul Fleury, School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Applied Physics, have used the new turbines as teaching tools in their classes. Fleury, who introduced the new freshman seminar in Energy Technology & Society to non-science and engineering majors this spring, hopes that this demonstration, among others on campus, and along with lessons in sustainable energy will help shape the policies of the future.

Fleury has little doubt that many of Yale’s students will play leading roles in policy development and that “they will have to be technology savvy.” The course covers technology and use of energy; its impact on the environment, climate, security, and economy; and the possible solutions to one of the greatest challenges we face.

“Alexander Graham Bell would not recognize today’s telecommunications network,” says Fleury, “Thomas Edison, on the other hand, would be quite familiar with the structure of today’s electric grid.”

We have made little change to the ways we generate energy or to the way energy is distributed.  Many  agree, however, that we already have much of the scientific and technical know-how to realize a sustainable energy future. However, the right policies are needed to exploit them. Yale is committed to doing its part.