Renewable Energy Center

Solar Energy

Batchman melds the best of engineering and sociology into renewable energy

Ted Batchman has spent his whole life looking toward the future. Batchman, professor of electrical and biomedical engineering and former dean of the College of Engineering, has spent more than 40 years as an engineer, but when he talks about renewable energy he sounds a lot like a sociologist.

“I’ve had quite a bit of background in and have always been interested in looking at how technology and sociology essentially interact,” he said.

In July 2008, Batchman stepped down after 13 years as dean to become the Founding Director of the university’s Renewable Energy Center at the Redfield Campus. He is a persuasive advocate for lessening the country’s reliance on oil for three interconnected reasons: security, economics and global warming.

“We are very dependent on other countries for oil and we’ve created a tremendous dependence on countries that aren’t dependable,” he said.

Developing countries are using more foreign oil as well, which increases the competition for limited oil reserves. Batchman said China is importing approximately 60 percent of their oil while the U.S. is importing about 70 percent.

“President Obama and his administration want to get rid of our dependence on foreign oil, create U.S. jobs and create green jobs that are based on renewable energy,” he said.

Although renewable energy technology was developed in the U.S., manufacturing has been outsourced, posing another economic issue. Batchman mentioned that General Electric, for example, is the only American company among the top five wind turbine manufacturers in the world.

He said about 50 percent of the energy used in the U.S. is in homes, including the 12 percent used in manufacturing home-building materials.

“Our houses have gotten bigger with more space to heat and cool, but we haven’t invested in the technology on energy savings within our homes,” Batchman said. “But most of our buildings, including homes, businesses and schools could become energy efficient with retrofitting.” 

Batchman said a good portion of recent federal stimulus money is going into retrofitting, but the process has been slow.

“We are completing thousands of retrofitting projects per year rather than the five-to-ten million projects that are needed to significantly lessen our energy usage,” he said.

Batchman believes educating young people – and educating the older population – is crucial in changing current energy consumption behavior.

“We’ve always been the ‘Land of Plenty’ and we’ve never thought about our use of energy,” he said. “Look at Europe. They’re much more conscious of energy. Our older generation has to be taught how to conserve energy and we need to have some government policy to make it economical for them to do so. Younger generations are more interested and aware of the problem.”

Batchman said offering short courses such as a weekend classes through University of Nevada Extended Studies and Cooperative Extension that target an older population could help create awareness and teach new energy-saving skills.

“And education itself will not do it,” he explained. “We need legislation to mandate change – and then it becomes a policy issue. Policy and technology have to be closely intertwined to move us forward so we become energy efficient.

“We need to educate our political leaders as well. In teaching our young people, we’re educating our future political leaders.”

To help accomplish the task, Batchman has teamed up with Political Science Professor Chris Simon to teach an introductory class (PSC 110, Introduction to Renewable Energy) on politics and renewable energy. Demand is high. The class has already filled up so the two are looking for a larger room to accommodate more students.

In the short term, Batchman is especially keen on natural gas as a solution to the energy crisis because it is a more secure source of energy than oil.

“The U.S. has tremendous reserves of natural gas that burns cleaner, although it still emits CO2 into the environment,” he said.

Batchman believes T. Boone Pickens, the Texas billionaire, has put forward an intriguing policy idea in converting all 18-wheelers in the U.S. from diesel to natural gas, a three-year plan that could have an immediate impact.

A longer-term solution lies in developing an economic transition to a non-carbon based, renewable energy economy.

 “The U.S. needs to be a leader in renewable energy,” Batchman said. “It affects everybody and it’s not a one-discipline solution. For renewable energy to succeed, so much depends on social acceptance.”

Batchman carries one key message as he continues looking toward the future: “Energy is all our responsibility and we have got to be aware of this responsibility,” he said. “We need to solve the problems for our children and grandchildren – now – because if we don’t, the climate change and the lack of economical energy resources is going to haunt our grandchildren and they are going to ask us why we didn’t do something about it.”

- By Jean Dixon