Jenn Halweil.jpg

 

Duke Energy has announced that it will give $1.25 million to the College of Engineering in order to support green energy education. The donation might more aptly be titled exactly what it is: Duke Energy bolstering its own self-interested recruiting efforts while passing up an important opportunity to promote positive change and growth within its own company.

NCSU will use the money to create two named professorships, one in nuclear engineering and one in electrical and computer engineering. Also, NCSU will establish an outreach program to encourage engineering in K-12 schools. Lastly, the money will help renovate two conference rooms in the College of Engineering. In return for its generous contribution, Duke Energy will receive greater recognition on campus, including the renaming of the Engineering Building 1 atrium to the "Duke Energy Atrium."

Interestingly, programs such as environmental science, engineering and technology receive no direct benefit from the funding. Obviously, this philanthropy is part of Duke Energy's efforts to recruit new people, compete with Progress Energy's on-campus notoriety and support what it believes to be its most desirable areas of study.

Rather than exemplifying Duke Energy's commitment toward going green, the funding demonstrates how NCSU, in spite of its "Year of Energy" promise, is continuing to allow corporate utilities to take baby steps towards environmental sustainability instead of directly benefiting students while sponsoring innovation.

The donation could establish research grants or endowments for students working to develop environmental technologies and/or programs, regardless of their majors or disciplines. Examples could include financing senior design research aimed at improving wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal systems or conservation efforts. The money could assist students working on projects for the Solar Center, Semiconductor Power Electronics Center (SPEC), or recycling center on campus, as well.

The gift illustrates that Duke Energy does not understand the basic principle behind the green revolution: advancing development through diverse collaboration. For example, recent improvements in solar technology are a result of electrical, chemical and material science engineering. Similarly, recently developed solar-wind hybrid power systems are a result of the intertwining of electrical and mechanical engineering.

Environmental sustainability is not just about what is created -- it is also about what is not destroyed through recycling and conservation efforts. General Electric announced in Beijing last week that it will continue expanding its Ecomagination initiative to promote environmental innovation and stewardship by conserving 20 percent of the company's water usage by 2012. It also announced that its Ecomagination venture raised $14 billion in revenue last year alone. The pledge illustrates why GE is a leading Fortune 500 Company, and why Duke Energy is missing out on the lucrative green bandwagon.

Going green is about rethinking how companies develop, manage and utilize technologies. It will take the best minds from a variety of disciplines, including business majors, entrepreneurs, engineers and environmental studies, to name a few. It will involve more energetically pursuing inventive designs and collaborative efforts.

By only funding select engineering disciplines, Duke Energy has missed out on a great opportunity to reinvent itself as a leader by redefining how utility companies do business, and by fostering innovation through a multidisciplinary approach toward educational contributions.

E-mail Jenn your thoughts on green at viewpoint@technicianonline.com