Sustainable Energy Research Centre: Carleton ‘city’ could offer key to climate crisis

From rising tuition fees to traffic jams and pollution problems, Carleton’s challenges can sometimes mirror those of a small municipality.

That’s why this “mini-city” is the perfect testing ground for stimulating new ideas and solutions to guide the university towards becoming a green, sustainable city of the future, says Robin Sinha, executive director of the new Carleton Sustainable Energy Research Centre.

The centre — acting like a city’s sustainable energy adviser — will focus on supporting Carleton’s research efforts to find innovative ways to reduce energy consumption and increase the uses of renewable sources. By providing a link to real-world problems and solutions, the centre will also help produce engineering and policy graduates well-versed in the language of the environment and capable of devising meaningful solutions to the climate crisis.

“The whole idea is to get the knowledge (at Carleton) out into the public domain,” says Sinha, a former deputy science and technology director with CANMET Energy, Canada’s leading federal energy research centre. “The university can fulfill a role as a vehicle to transfer knowledge.”

Working with the university’s sustainability co-ordinator, the centre aims to provide faculty and students with the opportunity to creatively combat the school’s environmental challenges while helping chart the course towards integrated community energy solutions, solutions that can also serve as an action plan to municipalities facing the same problems.

Carleton is poised to become a green beacon in an increasingly smog-filled world, says Kim Matheson, vice-president (Research and International).

“(It signifies) that we have a core set of researchers engaged in this area,” says Matheson. “We’re crossing disciplines, solving real-world problems, building grad programs … and reaching out to the community.”

As part of the in-house greening, Carleton is hoping to build a solar laboratory on campus — essentially a house that generates as much energy as it consumes over the course of the year.

“With that lab (we would) be examining different kinds of solar energy,” says Sinha. A big part of the research would revolve around improving energy storage since, as is the nature of an energy source that relies solely on the sun, “sometimes we have too much solar energy and (sometimes we have) too little.”

The centre will also attempt to unite two groups of professionals that don’t have a history of working together — engineers and policymakers. By “bridging” the Faculty of Engineering and Design and the School of Public Policy and Administration under the banner of the environment, Sinha hopes to get the two groups speaking the same language.

Carleton is already ahead of the game, producing green engineers through a Bachelor of Engineering in Sustainable and Renewable Energy Engineering program and green policy graduates through its Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Development.

“We’re not going to make engineers out of the policy people but the idea is to expose them (to the other’s role),” adds Sinha. “Through collaborative projects, we can bring that great divide closer together.”

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Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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