October 2005

Message from the Director
"Energy: The Grand Challenge"

EnergyWhiz Olympics participants with H2 car
Jim Fenton
(Photo: Nick Waters)

Jim Fenton, Director

On September 14, UCF President John Hitt hosted one of the university's "Focus on Excellence" breakfasts in downtown Orlando. The theme of the program was energy, and more than 200 community leaders from throughout Central Florida attended to learn about the university's interest in this field.

I gave a presentation entitled "Energy: The Grand Challenge of the 21st Century," and I'd like to share some of my comments with you here. The timing of the program couldn't have been better for getting people to think about today's energy issues - we were still reeling from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, the sharp rise of gas prices to above $3 per gallon, and the projections of higher home utility bills this winter. My comments to the group gave me a chance to share my vision of FSEC's future.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy entitled "Basic Research Needs for Solar Energy Utilization" highlighted the problem we are facing today: "World demand for energy is projected to more than double by 2050 and to more than triple by the end of the century. Incremental improvements in existing energy networks will not be adequate to supply this demand in a sustainable way. Finding sufficient supplies of clean energy for the future is one of society's most daunting challenges."

"Oil has become an indulgence that we just can no longer afford. The world is running out of oil, the retail price is rapidly climbing, and protecting our peacetime energy security interests in the mideast costs us as much as the $61 billion we pay each year to buy their oil."

Within this context, the cost of oil dependence is more than our planet can afford. Oil dependence used to be an environmental issue. Today it is a deadly serious strategic concern. At a time when we are importing more than 60 percent of the oil used in America, we spent $300 billion more on energy consumption in 2005 than we did last year - 2-1/2 percent of our Gross Domestic Product!

Oil has become an indulgence that we just can no longer afford. The world is running out of oil, the retail price is rapidly climbing, and protecting our peacetime energy security interests in the mideast costs us as much as the $61 billion we pay each year to buy their oil. And the recent environmental calamities around the world, from floods to hurricanes, shows that global warming is indeed a fact.

In our nation's history, it has taken major commitments by the government to make things happen. Our wonderful national highway system, for example, started with President Eisenhower's National Defense Highway Act of 1956 - a program that cost $300 billion in today's dollars. President Kennedy's Apollo program to put a man on the moon during the 1960s cost $100 billion in today's dollars. The state of California is currently spending $480 million per year in their energy efficiency and renewable energy research budget. Yet the entire U.S. Department of Energy budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy is only $100 million per year. To achieve the energy independence our country needs, we must have an Apollo-like program in energy R&D!

For the past 30 years, we've been doing our part at FSEC to help achieve energy independence for the citizens of Florida as well as consumers around the country. We were created by the Florida Legislature in 1975 to serve as the state's energy research institute with a mission of research, testing and education. I believe strongly that the experience, staff and capabilities we have at FSEC can help solve our energy problems and help the U.S. meet our energy needs.

EnergyWhiz Olympics participants with H2 car
Franklyn Smith working on separating hydrogen from hydro-carbons with the only by-product being pure carbon.
(Photo: Nick Waters)

FSEC began as a "solar energy" center but grew into many new research and development areas. Today's program include high-performance buildings (energy efficiency), solar thermal systems (today's cost-effective solution), photovoltaics (tomorrow's source of electricity), and hydrogen, alternative fuels and fuel cells (the future's fuels and engines), along with testing and certification, education and training, and demonstrations of the technologies.

Today the center has four research divisions, 90 full-time researchers and a total staff of nearly 150 people. We annually receive more than $9 - $12 million in external contracts and grants to supplement our state appropriations. We've just published some new fact sheets (see www.fsec.ucf.edu ) highlighting some of our major accomplishments of the past 30 years. Visit the site to read about our programs that have saved Florida residents more than $2.2 billion in energy costs, more than $30 million annually in savings from solar water heaters, trained more than 15,000 industry professionals, government officials, educators and others, and that have helped accelerate a PV market that is now growing 30 percent every year.

Finally, let me note that there are many similarities between the energy problems we face today and the energy crisis of the 1970s, but with one very important difference - back in the 1970s, the world had plenty of oil. Today, as the chart below shows, we're running out of that resource.


Graph showing the world is running out of oil.
The world is running out of oil


The world supply of petroleum has likely peaked, while the world demand for energy resources is rapidly increasing. As China and India further develop their economies and demand increases even more, how much will a barrel of oil cost in the future?

"More energy from the sun strikes our planet every hour than all the energy consumed on earth in a year."

Florida demand for energy resources is growing rapidly. Electricity is projected to grow by 58 percent between 2002 and 2020. The state's population growth is fueling the nation's largest residential building market, but 95 percent of the state's 156,000 new homes every year are being built to minimum energy efficiency standards. Keeping our energy dollars in Florida will help fuel the state's economy. Studies have shown that every dollar we spend on energy that we can keep in state is worth $2 to $3 in economic development.

Sunlight provides the largest of all carbon-neutral energy sources. More energy from the sun strikes our planet every hour than all the energy consumed on earth in a year. At FSEC, we are ready to propel UCF forward as one of America's leading university energy research institutions.

Our challenge is simple: it is essential for the future of our planet that we close the huge gap between the current uses of solar energy and its enormous undeveloped potential. To help meet this challenge, I propose the following three steps:

  • UCF will become the nation's leading energy research university.
  • We increase the offerings in energy-related education and achieve international prominence in energy graduate study and research.
  • Through partnerships, FSEC and the academic departments of UCF shall lead Florida and the nation towards sustainable energy independence.

I welcome your comments on our vision of our future and the challenges we face as we develop more renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. To send your thoughts on these areas, click here. I also look forward to seeing you at our open house on Saturday, October 29. Come on out to FSEC and see for yourself all the exciting things we've got going on these days.