NEW BRUNSWICK – Over 100 students, community members, and solar business representatives attended a lively discussion on New Jersey’s solar energy future last evening at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus. Presentations by four expert panelists were followed by an hour-long back-and-forth between audience members and panelists.
“Despite being a small, Northeastern state, New Jersey is a leader in solar energy” said David Beavers, Campaign Organizer with Environment New Jersey, one of the event’s co-hosts. “New Jersey owes its solar leadership to the forward-thinking vision of our energy policy experts, the quality of our research and development facilities, and the progressive nature of our citizens. All of those were on display at last night’s event.”
The event was a collaboration between Environment New Jersey, NJ PIRG Student Chapters, Rutgers Fossil Fuel Divestment, and Rutgers Engineering Governing Council’s Sustainability Affair Committee. NJ PIRG Student Chapters is currently running a student-led campaign to encourage the city councils of New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, and Camden to set a goal of generating 20 percent of electricity in those communities from solar energy.
“With over half the state living in places where the air is unsafe to breathe because of dirty energy use, and the threat of global warming looming, it’s up to us to make sure New Jersey continues to be a leader in meeting our solar potential,” said Hilal Yildiz, Solar Campaign Coordinator for NJPIRG Students. “Here in New Brunswick, we’re calling on Mayor Cahill to make us the first city in the state to commit to going 20% solar by 2025.”
New Jersey has over 33,000 solar installations, 7,200 employed in the solar industry, and the third most installed solar capacity in the nation. Solar energy helps boost local economies, reduce New Jersey’s carbon footprint, and save consumers on their electricity bills. According to a report released last fall by Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center, New Jersey has the technical potential to generate six times the electricity its residents consume in an average year from solar power alone.
An enthusiastic crowd of Rutgers students, community members, and solar business representatives attended the event. Audience members drove an engaging hour-long question and answer session with after the panelists shared their visions for solar energy’s future. Several audience members inquired into how the advances in storage will impact residential solar users.
“Because of Sandy and weather conditions, because of cyber terrorism and cyber security, storage is the future, where [solar users] will be able to go off grid and still stay on power,” said Jeanne Fox, Ex-President and Commissioner of New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, one of the event’s panelists. “This will make renewables it.”
Fox was joined by Mark Warner, the Director of Energy at the Sustainability Institute at the College of New Jersey, Kate Shackford, the Tri-State Executive Director of solar non-profit GRID Alternative, and Rutgers Professor Dr. Dunbar Birnie.
“I was really impressed with the panel tonight. They all came from different backgrounds in the field and their individual insights created a comprehensive vision of New Jersey’s promising future with solar energy,” said Dede Murray, a Rutgers Senior studying Planning and Public Policy who attended the event. “I am really glad I attended and it has increased my interest in working for a solar company.”
“Solar energy’s environmental, economic, and public health benefits are well known, making it an incredibly popular technology,” said Beavers. “Solar energy’s popularity was evident in the enthusiasm of the audience today, and that gives me confidence that New Jersey’s solar future will be a bright one.”
Environment New Jersey is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization dedicated to a cleaner, greener, healthier future. For more information, visit www.environmentnewjersey.org.