Dean's Blog

Energy Quest

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The frigid wind and snow of December have left little doubt that winter has firmly descended on campus and central Vermont. The season arrived a bit earlier than usual this year and has already graced us with several days at or slightly below zero degree (F) with plenty of snow, and the season has only just begun. One advantage of distance education is that our students and faculty have joined us from many locations around the country and globe, many of which are warmer than Vermont during the winter season!  A hearty welcome is in order to our new students beginning graduate programs this month; welcome aboard for what will be a wonderful but challenging experience.

Timing is everything during the heating season in these parts. On the home front I have noticed that the early snow and consistently cold temperatures have already taken a noticeable dent out of the woodpile. Fortunately, my reserves should be sufficient to get us through a good old fashioned winter and to minimize heating oil use in the process. Wood is plentiful in this part of the country and provides a good option for both individual homes and increasingly for larger scale operations. 

The university recently fired up a state-of-the-art wood chip plant in what is a model of energy generation that our students and many from the region are visiting to see in action. The project will provide significant financial and environmental benefits and is expected to save about $1 million in fuel oil annually, which will allow the facility to pay for itself in six years. The woodchips used in the plant will come from within a 100-mile radius and support the logging industry in Vermont and region.  Additionally, the new technologies employed will result in 95% less dangerous emissions going up the stack; cleaner air is what we all like! The effort is one of many that Norwich University has embarked on in recent years to reduce energy use and control associated costs – being green pays in many ways.

My quest for energy solutions is driven by a long-standing desire for a clean environment. On a practical note, I have begun my winter homework to study solar power generation as I prepare to build a camp off the grid. The exercise has been quite productive to date and got me thinking about how to provide energy for the fundamentals – heat, electricity, and water – in ways that are sustainable and cost effective. The heat problem isn’t much of a challenge given ample firewood on the land, although I briefly considered an interesting electricity-free wood pellet stove in the design. In the final analysis, a simple woodstove will do the trick and also provide the excuse for a larger chain saw and log splitter.

I am still in the design stage and developing requirements for the camp, which will drive electrical power needs and system design. I am getting closer and have a good idea now about how the role of solar irradiance and degree of panel tilt relative to our latitude will factor into the design and site selection. I’ve found the Solar Electricity Handbook 2013 Edition and associated website by Michael Boxwell (Greenstream Publishing) quite helpful and practical for those who might be interested. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this as the project continues with the real fun happening in the build stage. It’s about time for another pre-emptive tetanus shot anyway.

The recently concluded deer season left me frozen solid and committed to a structure with heat and power for next fall. I might also add that the deer won again this year, but who’s counting.

I suppose it’s time to hit the books again so let’s get back to work!