UC Merced solar energy institute seeks to shine by raising funds

August 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

A University of California institute geared toward making solar energy more efficient and affordable is trying to create visibility to help raise funds.

The UC Advanced Solar Technologies Institute based at UC Merced was established in 2010 with a five-year, $2.25 million grant from the UC Office of Research, said Ron Durbin, the institute’s executive director.

In the last two years, the institute has had steady financial support from the private sector and government, he said. “We are starting to get our brand out there,” Durbin said of the institute and UC Merced .

The institute has added a couple of sponsors each year since it opened, but Durbin declined to give an amount for the total sponsorships. He said the largest sponsor is the E.J. Gallo Winery.

The Merced Irrigation District is another sponsor. On Tuesday, MID announced it would increase its investment to the institute to $15,000 this year, from its initial contribution of $10,000 last year.

Some of the sponsors have invested with the idea Merced can become the leader within the UC system in developing solar energy research, Durbin said. “What their money is enabling us to do is to get out and raise the visibility of the institute so that we can attract more and larger sponsors,” he said. “The more people know you, the more people will come to your door and the more projects will get funded.”

Sponsors such as MID are important, and officials are glad the district decided to increase its investment. “We didn’t ask them for more money, they just volunteer it,” he said. “I think it’s because we have a positive working relationship with them.”

A state requirement calls for utility entities to have 33 percent of their energy come from renewable energy sources by 2020. Mike Jensen, spokesman for MID, said that creates a challenge for the district.

He said officials are doing everything they can to be able to comply with the requirement.

“We want to do our part,” he said.

He said the district supports the work that’s being done by researchers at the institute. “Looking at the long-term, we are hopeful that the work they’re doing will lead to more affordable sources of solar (energy),” he said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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