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Collaboration U: Where renewable energy and higher education converge


Zev Rosenzweig

When commercial developers and academic institutions team up, it’s a win-win, says Zev Rosenzweig, CEO and Founder of AORA Solar.

Universities are where some of society’s greatest minds come together to solve the world’s biggest problems. And when renewable energy technology developers and universities work together, the sky is the limit. 

Universities provide a conducive setting for creating incredible innovation through research, dedication, and a lot of hard work. It is therefore no surprise that commercial developers and universities have begun to realize the incredible potential of leveraging each other’s strengths. 

The combination of academia and private sector knowledge and resources is a win-win, not only for the parties involved, but also for the world, which will likely benefit from the findings and output of the partnership. Creating a mutually beneficial partnership can be utilized as a growth engine for research and development, and funding alike. 

What do universities have to gain?

Today, universities are consistently trying to shine in a world of shrinking budgets. Investment of private sector companies in research and joint projects can play an important role in curbing potential budget shortfalls while also providing real-world experience for students. 

Unlike some academic disciplines, renewable energy is not an abstract concept. Its importance is well recognized as vital for our planet and holds the potential to invigorate students and researchers towards creating actionable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing climate and energy issues. 

Universities that partner with renewable energy developers will not only enjoy financial incentives, they will open the door to stimulating opportunities and research that can be implemented in the field.  This can provide an engaging platform for students to gain hands-on experience in an area that is poised to be at the forefront of our global dialogue for decades to come.  Moreover, with the financial investment of private companies, universities can significantly minimize the financial risks inherent to such projects.

What’s in it for companies?

When joining forces with higher education institutions, companies tap into the expertise of renewable energy academics who can explore everything from economic models, engineering considerations, solution applications, technology efficiencies and more. 

What’s important to note is that the research behind solving such challenges is conducted by leading researchers at a reduced market cost by employing both faculty and students. This allows companies the ability to explore revolutionary ideas, with low risk.

Other advantages to working with universities include publicity when working with a prestigious facility, or in the case that the university is working on similar projects, the possibility of tapping into other ongoing/related projects and benefitting from even more resources. 

How does it work?

Take AORA, for example, and its solar-biogas “Tulip”.  Originally conceived and designed in the world renowned Weizmann Institute in Israel, AORA built a solid technical foundation before commencing commercial activities. 

Following successful installations in Israel and Spain, the company recognized the potential of partnering with other institutes of higher learning to expand solution and global reach. AORA had joined forces with Arizona State University (ASU), and now works with two science and technology universities in Ethiopia having seen the rewards first hand. We worked with a multi-disciplinary ASU team to research options to increase efficiency, best utilize the exhaust heat and decrease the cost of our technology. 

Furthermore, AORA recently signed agreements with Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Science and Technology University and Adama Science and Technology University, and are planning construction of demonstration power plants on the Ethiopian universities’ land to enable local faculty, research staff, and students to easily work on the system.

The goal of the partnership is to promote academic cooperation for the development and advancement of renewable energy technologies to support the implementation of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy. This strategy is helping transform Ethiopia into a carbon-neutral middle-income country by 2025. 

The technology includes a collection of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays to heat compressed air to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and drive a gas turbine. The rated output of the Tulip system is 100 kilowatts of electricity and an additional 170 kilowatts of thermal power, producing enough energy to power approximately 60-80 homes in off-grid locations This arrangement provides students with a hands-on approach to research, and the ability to develop real-world skills in renewable energy, engineering, construction management, and more. 

The agreement also expands the academic institutions’ common interest in promoting mutual cooperation in the area of education and research. Activities are taking place under the guidance of the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy and the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology.

Examples of AORA’s collaboration include joint activities for research park development, in addition to the development and strengthening of renewable energy curricula for solar electric, solar thermal, photovoltaics, wind, and sustainable fuel technologies. The cooperation also lays the groundwork for installation of AORA’s technology at both campuses.

This example serves an important reminder that the benefits academic of collaboration are not only limited to the direct parties involved, but also impact local society. In this way, new promising technologies can help governments move closer to their renewable energy goals, while creating improved standards for citizens.

Mutually beneficial cooperation

The green revolution is upon us. Clean technology is no longer a fringe sector, but a thriving segment of the global economy, with society making climate change and environmental sustainability a major focus for the future. Renewable energy developers are at the forefront of innovation and are focused on creating tangible, affordable solutions. However the need to conduct business while keeping costs down is vital. 

Now is the perfect time for developers and their academic counterparts to join forces to tackle renewable energy head on. By tapping into the potential of young academics and experienced researchers, companies can help fill some of the gaps in the sustainable energy sector. By taking a collaborative approach, the cleantech sector can achieve greater results and help bring the green revolution to its full potential, which will benefit us all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 
 

Zev Rosenzweig is the CEO and Founder of AORA Solar and has over thirty years’ experience in the realization of high value technology programs. Holding degrees in Civil Engineering, Common Law, Civil Law and a Certificate in Management from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Mr. Rosenzweig has held senior management positions in the nuclear power, defense and aviation industries. 

FURTHER INFORMATION
 

AORA Solar is a developer of solar-biogas hybrid power technology that specializes in small-scale off-grid solutions: http://aora-solar.com/ 

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