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UCLA Renewable Energy Club promotes sustainability initiatives

Courtesy of Sandra Rhee

By So Jung Ki

Oct. 15, 2014 2:54 a.m.

From apartments near UCLA and the sidewalks in Westwood, students can see a large industrial building that emits high volumes of vapor from its roof. Inside the facility, the UCLA cogeneration plant, a source of clean, renewable energy, has been supplying low-cost electricity and thermal energy to the campus since 1994.

The plant and other sustainable energy installations at UCLA are examples of projects the Renewable Energy Club wants to educate students about, and create on a smaller scale in the future. The club, a student group with nine current members, is meeting for the first time Thursday. It hopes to recruit more students and take an active role in facilitating sustainable energy programs on campus.

While a few dollars from students’ mandatory fees provide funding for campus sustainability projects through The Green Initiative Fund each quarter, club president Mikael Matossian said he noticed a lack of interest in renewable energy sources on campus and founded the club in spring quarter.

“There was no club, or really a class that emphasizes renewable energy (for undergraduates),” said Matossian, a fourth-year environmental science student.

To gain hands-on experience in renewable energy projects, Matossian said he went to a 10-day renewable energy workshop in the mountains and farms of Costa Rica in March. He said the sustainability projects in Costa Rica prompted him to consider how renewable energy projects could thrive at UCLA.

The club also strives to play a role in connecting school officials and students with executable ideas and available technologies to get involved in the sustainability initiative. Its most current plan is to install solar energy projects, similar to the power charging tables equipped with solar panels on the Ackerman Student Union patio introduced last year by an Action Research Team of the student organization called Education for Sustainable Living Program.

“The focus would be on expanding even more or thinking of new ways to get (solar energy),” Matossian said.

Roy Champawat, director of the UCLA Student Union, said the Ackerman roof has room for some more solar panels and that he thinks it is possible for the Renewable Energy Club to carry out solar energy projects on the building as the Action Research Team did last year.

“As a student facility, we are always open to ideas that the student community is bringing forward,” Champawat said. “That’s what the fund is for – student-generated ideas and student participation and the execution of the same.”

Matossian said the Renewable Energy Club is not just limited to science and engineering students, but offers diverse opportunities for students from all majors to get involved.

“You can be a humanities major and work in the policies and awareness of (renewable energy),” he said.

Sandra Rhee, the public relations chair of the Renewable Energy Club, said the club wants to be active in community outreach. The second-year materials science and engineering student said the board met with students at USC in hopes of carrying out collaboration efforts.

Matossian said the club is also planning on collaborating with the Undergraduate Students Association Council Community Service Commission to educate high school students about renewable energy in the future.

Rhee said one of the club’s greatest challenges currently is spreading the word about ongoing projects. She said she thinks support from the community drives sustainability projects even at times of regulatory or financial challenges.

The Renewable Energy Club will have its first general meeting on Oct. 16 at Bunche 2178 at 6 p.m.

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So Jung Ki
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