From leasing to owning rooftop solar, to the University of Arizona continuing programs to increase the use of renewable energy, about 20 residents participated in a Solar 101 workshop last week at the Nanini Branch Library.

The Nov. 30 gathering marked the 51st time U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ office has hosted a solar workshop, where the Congresswoman’s staff aims to increase awareness of solar energy, new technology and advances that are being made every day, especially at the University of Arizona.

Tom Alston, the District 8 solar outreach and policy coordinator, said Giffords’ office remains focused on energy independence and economic stability. However, the United States isn’t moving as quickly as some would like, with 80 percent of the nation’s energy still coming from coal, and only three percent is renewable energy, Alston said.

In Arizona, Alston said the initiative that 15 percent of the state’s total energy use will be from renewable energy by 2025 is becoming less of a priority for the Arizona Corporation Commission.

With the sunlight available in Arizona, and programs allowing residents to lease rooftop solar systems for homes, Alston said the state has the capability to meet the goals, but the ACC, and others need to make it a priority.

Guest speakers for the 90-minute workshop included Dr. Vincent Lonij, a research associate in the University of Arizona Department of Physics; Anne M. Simon, a University of Arizona Ph.D. candidate who currently chairs the student organization, The Energy Science Group; and Hilary Hirsh, a development coordinator at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park Solar Zone.

Hirsh works at the technology park near Rita Road and Interstate 10, where a Davis Monthan Air Force Base flight path zoning regulation is allowing unused land to become part of solar expansion.

The technology park was built in 1978, and now houses more than 50 companies and 7,000 employees, Hirsh said.

With a large amount of nearby land falling inside the Davis Monthan flight path, which means no buildings can be developed, Hirsh said they are making plans to build solar parks, which require no water or infrastructure.

Lonij spoke about continued research to increase renewable energy, with an emphasis on photovoltaic technology, which is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity using semiconductors.

Lonij said the challenge moving forward is answering how much photovoltaic technology costs, if it’s reliable, efficient, and if it can be sustainable.

With a team of researchers working to answer these questions, Lonij said they are learning more and more everyday.

However, Lonij said he is concerned that the United States is not at the forefront of renewable energy research and implementation.

“This research has definite international applicability,” said Lonij. “Arizona is unique in that we have a lot of sun here, so we have a unique advantage compared to other universities, and we are trying to take advantage of that.”

Simon ended the evening discussions with an overview of how the University of Arizona Energy and Science group is teaming up with other universities and programs nationwide to learn more about renewable energy and studies being conducted.

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