Energy secretary praises UTSA

US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz visited UTSA’s Downtown Campus Thursday, Feb. 6, to meet with university and city leaders and to engage the community during a town hall discussion. Joining Moniz at the event were UTSA President Ricardo Romo, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Les Shepard, director of UTSA’s Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (TSERI).

The event came shortly after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, during which he reiterated his “all of the above” energy strategy, which would double down on renewable energy sources and natural gas to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil.

Moniz had high praises for UTSA, where he said “clean energy and innovation” are helping achieve a brighter future in the energy sector.

He emphasized that partnerships between the government, universities and business are critical to the continued growth of the energy sector, both in San Antonio and across the country.

While Moniz emphasized the need for more renewable energy across the country, Castro made sure to highlight San Antonio’s role in embracing renewables. “We have more wind and solar production than any other municipality in the United States.”

Castro further explained that San Antonio has been a leader in “being environmentally responsible while also creating jobs.” He cited a grant from the Department of Energy that allowed the city to create the first bike share program in the state and to retrofit city facilities to make them more efficient.

UTSA has also worked with the Department of Energy — most recently with the federal department’s SunShot initiative. The university was one of just two schools to receive a SunShot DISTANCE (Diversity in Science and Technology Advances National Clean Energy in Solar) award, which will allow UTSA to implement a program that will provide more research and development opportunities in solar energy to students of minority groups.

In addition to its work with the federal government, “the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at UTSA is working directly with the city to research a variety of sustainable initiatives,” said Michelle Garza, student chair for UTSA’s Green Fund.

Among the projects UTSA and the city are working on together are “broad scale deployment of PV (Photo Volatic) solar and EV (Electric Vehicle) charging stations on campus and around the Alamo region,” according to Shepard. Shepard also added that UTSA’s relationship with the city has also brought about “innovative technology development associated with load and solar forecasting.”

“The clean energy initiatives affect our future,” said Garza, herself an environmental science major. “When we educate ourselves on the challenges of today we can work toward the solutions of tomorrow.”

Moniz stopped in Austin before making his appearance at UTSA and stated that the two cities are “very complementary” in their energy approach. “What’s going on in Austin is only a baseline for what’s happening in San Antonio,” the secretary added.

“No longer can we compete with Austin and Houston and Dallas,” Shepard said. “If we come together in the way we think about problems, we’ll transform America’s energy future.”

Something other Texas regions lack, however, are the natural gas reserves located in South Texas. The continued expansion of the natural gas industry has already made a huge impact on the South Texas economy. According to UTSA’s Institute of Economic Development, Eagle Ford Shale development and production accounted for 116,000 jobs and $61 billion in 2012. That number is expected to reach $89 billion in 2022, according to the study.

Obama said in his State of the Union Speech that he believed natural gas can be a “bridge fuel” that helps the country become less dependent on oil. Munoz backed up the president, stating that “half of CO2 reduction has come from natural gas.”

UTSA has not let the opportunity provided by the natural gas boom go to waste. Earlier this semester, the university announced a new certification program for students seeking employment in the oil and natural gas industry. The certificate seeks to give mechanical engineering students “the fundamental engineering knowledge necessary for successful careers in oil/gas.”

Shepard pointed out that careers in the natural gas industry are beneficial to UTSA students and that UTSA’s involvement with the Eagle Ford Shale region helps put the university on the map. “It provides opportunities for very good, high paying jobs,” Shepard said in an email to the Paisano, adding that it also gives students “the opportunity to build a career with multi-national companies.” This work, Shepard said, “raises the visibility of UTSA as a prominent university in Texas.”

Moniz said education, particularly in the STEM degrees, will be the key to the energy sector moving forward — and that this will be especially true of development in the renewables sector. With $40 trillion in global investment in the energy sector, Moniz said, “we need to keep our lead in innovation.”