Author: Kamble, Anuja Sunil

Guarantees of Optimality: A New Model to Help the Manufacturing Industry Transition to Renewables

Solar thermal technology has huge, untapped potential, and UConn researchers are making tools to help manufacturers realize the possibilities and take the plunge for renewable energy

Solar thermal arrays like the one that Stuber used in his research on desalination hold great promise in helping industries embrace renewable technology and transition away from fossil fuels.

Solar thermal arrays like the one that Stuber used in his research on desalination hold great promise in helping industries embrace renewable technology and transition away from fossil fuels. (Contributed photo)

The sixth UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which came out in the spring of 2022, was clear: technologies are available now to make the transition away from a fossil-fueled economy. However, making these swift changes is not as simple as flipping a switch.

For industry, rigorous guarantees are needed before decisions and costly investments are made, and UConn engineering researchers have developed a dynamical model to help companies determine if renewables make economic sense.

Pratt & Whitney Associate Professor in Advanced Systems Engineering Matthew Stuber worked with two undergraduate students and co-lead authors Justin Rastinejad ’22 (ENG) and Sloane Putnam ’22 (ENG) answer this question in their recent paper published in Renewable Energy.

Stuber explains that this research answers a question he has been thinking about for several years now, “How do we start incorporating renewable energy into conventional industrial processes? Is it always worth it? The alternative is to buy energy in the form of fossil fuels, invest in renewables, or generate energy onsite through renewable means.”

The answers require accounting for many variables, including costs, power inputs and outputs, and determining which renewable technologies to adopt in lieu of fossil fuels. It is complex and non-linear, says Stuber, and must account for fluctuations in generation, since renewables are reliant on conditions like the sun and wind. The most accurate estimations require a rigorous evaluation process, and oftentimes manufacturers simply do not have the time and resources to perform these complicated assessments.

“My original work in this area was focused on desalination and water treatment in applications for agriculture where there is a lot of wastewater, a lot of water scarcity, and a lot of water consumption,” Stuber says. “This is at the heart of the food, energy, and water nexus. The one thing I was trying to answer was how do you do this sustainably? If it is a very energy or resource-intensive process, maybe we can use renewable energy to help reduce our climate impact, and stop this feedback loop from happening, because basically, water scarcity and drought are tied to climate change, and burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. This research is a holistic approach to the problem.”

The new paper focuses on questions surrounding incorporating renewable solar energy and determining which kind would be feasible to use in manufacturing processes. The solar technology that most people can recognize is photovoltaic (PV), which generates electricity using solar panels that collect sunlight and convert solar energy to electricity. The other technology is solar thermal, where the sun’s rays are concentrated (akin to a magnifying glass) and the energy is transferred to fluid within pipes, where it can be stored or transferred further in the form of heat. Though solar thermal has been used for years in many other areas of the world, and it has great promise for use in industrial applications, it was largely forgotten in the U.S. after the price for natural gas plummeted alongside increased rates of fracking.

“Most manufacturing processes require heat in some form, they might be using steam to sterilize or drive something, or they might use other kinds of thermal sources in their manufacturing process,” says Stuber. “Manufacturing is a huge chunk of the economy and it’s a huge energy consumer. Recent releases from the Department of Energy announce projects to electrify everything.”

Electrification can seem daunting, but renewables like solar thermal start to make more sense than “conventional” power sources in some scenarios. Stuber says that if you approach the problem from a power plant perspective, currently the process essentially turns fuel (fossil or nuclear) into thermal energy, and thermal energy into electricity (by powering turbines), which sends electricity to the grid. Manufacturers then take the electricity and convert it back to thermal energy for their needs.

To look for a better process, researchers set out to see if solar power generated on-site was a feasible option.

“A decade ago, when we were looking at this problem, we argued that thermal would be better for certain applications,” says Stuber. “However, with the massive reduction in the cost of photovoltaics, we were seeing photovoltaic prices plummeting, and everyone was saying PV is the way to go for everything. Now we’re 10 years on and I was wondering where we are today.”

The researchers performed a formal analysis of a hypothetical manufacturing process that requires heat in different regions of the United States, including California, Massachusetts, and Colorado, to test different solar resource availability and holistically assess economic viability.

They created a mathematical model, and the results were promising.

“The main takeaway is that batteries are extremely expensive, and they don’t make sense in the manufacturing sector right now, but solar thermal wins. If you have a manufacturing process that needs heat within a certain temperature range, solar thermal is going to be the choice for you,” Says Stuber.

The results showed that solar thermal is a viable choice to reduce fossil fuel reliance for industries that rely on low to medium heat for processes, regardless of location or scale.

“This model is highly adaptable. It can account for changes in location, process size, natural gas price, and many other specifications. This helps companies decide where and how to install a solar-powered industrial site,” says Rastinejad.

The model is available on GitHub to be used by anyone hoping to perform their own assessments. Stuber says this model can be helpful not just for companies but for anyone looking to do this type of rigorous analysis.

“The model simulates the exact performance of the system on an hourly basis over an entire year. It’s taking in near real-time solar data and simulating if the technology would be sending energy to the process, storing it, discharging the storage, or using backup energy if there is cloud cover. The model represents the performance of the system and can help with accurate design and more accurate economic estimates of the cost or cost savings of implementing renewable technology.”

Without a rigorous and accurate analysis, it is not possible to know for certain if these kinds of upgrades are economically viable. We need to quickly transition away from fossil fuels, the researchers hope this tool will help.

“My goal with this paper is to convince companies, policy makers, and the general public that they now have the tools to make costly decisions with confidence; I want the reader to understand that anyone can adapt this model to find the best configuration of hybrid solar thermal power for their own site-specific conditions,” says Putnam.

Stuber is now working with a team of undergrads as part of the Clean Energy and Sustainability Innovation Program (CESIP) to look at strategies to decarbonize UConn using some of the same ideas from this paper,

“Can we install renewable energy around campus to offset energy needs? I see this assessment as an important tool in addressing those concerns,” says Stuber.

UConn Selected to Lead Clean-Energy Project to Help U.S. Industries in Decarbonizing Efforts

‘Investments in net-zero-carbon technologies and industry decarbonization can strengthen U.S. and Connecticut manufacturing competitiveness, which then creates new jobs and economic opportunities that improve quality of life’

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks at a press conference at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks at a press conference at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering on May 20, 2022. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn has been selected to lead a nationwide decarbonization effort in which it will guide a network of companies, universities, and research centers in a sweeping project to expand the use of clean-energy technologies in America’s industrial sector.

The U.S. Department of Energy named UConn to establish and operate its national Onsite Energy Technical Analysis and Support Center (TASC), in collaboration with three minority-owned small businesses, a consultant, and a nationwide energy consulting company.

The honor builds on UConn’s reputation as a national leader inadvancing clean energy, a research area in which President Radenka Maric is an internationally known expert, and in which the University has committed itself to making a worldwide positive impact.

As the national TASC site in the Department of Energy decarbonization initiative, UConn will centrally coordinate technical analysis and programmatic activities of eight regional organizations known as Technical Assistance Partnerships (TAPs) at locations across the U.S.

The TAPs will work directly with local manufacturers and other large energy users on clean energy strategies ranging from fuel cells and renewable fuels to geothermal energy, industrial heat pumps, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, thermal storage, wind power, and more.

“The center being established at UConn will not only create a positive impact on reversing the worldwide impacts of climate change, but it also further cements Connecticut as the home of the clean energy industry, which continues to add thousands of new jobs each year and attract millions in economic investments,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont says.

The UConn-based TASC’s expertise will be key in helping facilitate the installation of real-world onsite energy projects in the field through TAPs, and in quantifying results so the Department of Energy can track the decarbonization efforts and outcomes.

“The UConn team combines the requisite highly technical engineering capabilities and programmatic expertise to multiply the impact of the regional Onsite Energy TAPs,” the U.S. Department of Energysaid in its announcement.

UConn will establish the center with DNV Energy Insights USA Inc., Analytical Energy Solutions, eSai LLC, Impact Energy, and RE Tech Advisors, LLC.

The Department of Energy says the UConn team will be key in “providing manufacturers and large energy users with unbiased expertise and analysis needed to deliver an equitable, clean energy future.”

The regional Onsite Energy TAPs include companies, universities, and research centers in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Hampshire, Texas, Washington, North Carolina, Oregon, and California.

UConn had already put its stake in the ground as a national leader in the area through its research and its aspiration to achieve carbon neutrality at Storrs by 2030, and has laid a strong foundation through a variety of initiatives already in place at UConn Health in Farmington and regional campuses.

Maric says the opportunity to lead the national industrial decarbonization effort will let UConn demonstrate its expertise, determination, and vision to fight climate change as part of the U.S. long-term strategy, which presents multiple pathways to a net-zero economy by no later than 2050.

Addressing environmental justice and energy equity will be integral to meeting climate goals at UConn, nationally, and globally, Maric adds. Adopting existing technologies and developing new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions presents a significant opportunity to address environmental issues and inequities.

“In addition to addressing carbon pollution and public health, investments in net-zero-carbon technologies and industry decarbonization can strengthen U.S. and Connecticut manufacturing competitiveness, which then creates new jobs and economic opportunities that improve quality of life,” she says.

“UConn profoundly appreciates the Department of Energy’s choice to place our team in this important role, as we have strengths in the four key ‘pillars’ of industrial decarbonization: energy efficiency; industrial electrification; low-carbon fuels, feedstocks, and energy sources; and carbon capture, utilization, and storage,” she adds.

UConn’s efforts have been noticed at the national level even before the newest honor, including duringa visitin spring 2022 by U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, who noted UConn’s major contributions to the field.

They included the2021 establishmentof theSouthern New England Industrial Assessment Centerat UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building (IPB), putting UConn among a group of 32 universities in 28 states sharing $60 million in federal funding on programs that provide free energy assessments to small and mid-sized businesses.

That center’s assistant director, Ravi Gorthala, will lead the newly announced plan for UConn to establish the Onsite Energy Technical Analysis and Support Center on campus.

Gorthala, a professor in residence in mechanical engineering, brings strong energy efficiency and renewable energy expertise to the project, also serving as associate director for research at the UConn Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering.

“I have been an energy researcher, preacher and practitioner all my life and I am deeply concerned about climate crisis, which is the most pressing and imminent global threat that the humanity faces. This project is one of the tools in the arsenal to fight climate crisis through decarbonization of industrial and building sectors.,” Gorthala says.

“I am grateful to U.S. Department of Energy for awarding this project to UConn and delighted to lead this project in close and equal partnership with DNV with its nationwide presence offering comprehensive energy services,” he adds.

George Bollas, director of the UConn Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering says the new TASC adds to the portfolio of projects performed at the institute that target clean energy, decarbonization, energy efficiency, and support of our local communities.

“Dr. Gorthala’s research is grounded in real needs and has a real impact on the communities around us. His passion for clean energy and his commitment to supporting the efforts of the state and the University to reduce our energy consumption are strong and honest,” Bollas says.

Richard S. Barnes, Region President for DNV’s Energy Systems North America operations, says they are pleased to partner with UConn in supporting the program.

“Our national presence and deep technical bench across the complete energy value chain will help to accelerate a sustainable and equitable energy transition for the industrial sector,” Barnes says. “We look forward to close collaboration with DOE, the regional Onsite Energy TAPs, and the National Laboratories to transform how industry and large energy users produce and consume energy across the nation.”

The new initiative comes as UConn also has many clean energy programs and partnerships also underway or anticipated.

Last fall, for instance, UConnestablished a partnershipin fall 2022 with the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on a collaboration for clean energy and grid resilience. Among the many goals of the partnership, UConn and NREL will work together to invest in the development of joint solutions to clean energy challenges in the Northeast and increase funding opportunities not otherwise available to either individual institution.

UConn and the State of Connecticut are also partnering with other East Coast states and institutions in seeking to host a regionalNortheast Hydrogen Hub, as envisioned in the 2021 federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The states submitted their combined application this spring, and a decision is expected this fall.

UConn-Led Effort Wins Nationwide Competition for K-12 Schools Energy Efficiency and Partnership Innovation




Jorge Garcia                                                                                             Amy Thompson

Bridgeport Public School                                                                       Pratt & Whitney Institute of Advanced

Director of Building Operations                                                           Systems Engineering                                                                 Associate Professor-in-Residence


.                                                                                                                   860-486-8462

For Immediate Release

UConn-Led Effort Wins Nationwide Competition for K-12 Schools Energy Efficiency and Partnership Innovation

(STORRS) – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it has selected a proposal submitted by the University of Connecticut (UConn) and Bridgeport Connecticut Public Schools (BPS), to implement comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable projects at two Bridgeport public schools through the U.S. DOE’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs. The project was one of only 24 projects selected nationwide after over 1,000 concept papers were submitted early in 2023.

Public engagement with this funding opportunity has been unprecedented. 

“Connecticut’s flagship state university is honored to be part of this effort,” George M. Bollas, Director of UConn’s Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering, said. “The design of smart, healthy, and resilient schools for the low-income Connecticut environmental justice community in Bridgeport is well aligned with the mission of the University to support the growth and prosperity of the state. For our Institute, whose Associate Director of Academic Programs and Director of its SmartBuildings CT program, professor Amy Thompson, led this effort, it is a great opportunity to strengthen our green energy and climate change research portfolio, and engage with and support communities of the state by translating systems engineering methods to practices that have direct impact on Connecticut’s smart and energy efficient schools effort.”

The DOE funding will support an effort to design and implement equipment retrofits and upgrades for two Bridgeport K-12 schools that will serve as demonstration sites for all 39 Bridgeport schools, and for thousands statewide and nationally. The projects focus on the use of renewables and smart control systems to achieve deep energy savings and create healthy learning environments. The grant will also support workforce development initiatives in the state as well as dissemination of project results. The total award for two projects and support for the energy efficiency workforce development and training is $3.6 million, of which over $3 million is expected to be invested in technology and upgrades for the schools.

“Bridgeport Public Schools is enthused to have been chosen to be a part of such innovative, groundbreaking work,” said Bridgeport Public Schools Superintendent Alyshia Perrin. “The opportunity to conserve energy while improving the classroom setting with air quality controls and saving much needed dollars to support other educational initiatives, creates a blueprint for other schools in the district to do the same. As we move into the future, we must make a concerted effort to sustain energy, reduce pollutants and increase levels of comfortability in our school for all stakeholders. Being chosen to be a part of the Renew America’s Schools program, will allow us to support our school communities while having a greater impact on our community blueprint as well.”

After receiving feedback on 1,000 initial proposals, Local Education Agencies (LEAs) from 44 states submitted 236 eligible Full Applications, totaling $1.62 billion in requests. Due to high demand and overwhelming evidence of public need, DOE more than doubled the first tranche of funding from $80 million to $178 million to support the program. 

The ENERGIZE CT programs administered by United Illuminating, an Avangrid Company, is a partner in the grant and will provide incentives and rebates to support the project.

“We at Avangrid are pleased to partner with UConn and the City of Bridgeport to bring innovative energy-saving technologies and workforce development initiatives to two Bridgeport public schools,” said Hammad Chaudry, Senior Manager of Conservation & Load Management Programs at United Illuminating, Southern Connecticut Gas, and Connecticut Natural Gas, subsidiaries of Avangrid. “By providing incentives, rebates, and in-kind services through EnergizeCT, this award will extend the cost savings and environmental sustainability associated with energy efficiency programs to the next generation of Bridgeport residents.”

The two schools will receive deep energy retrofits by installing Siemens controls and building management systems, new condensing boilers, heat pump water heaters, VFD’s, and energy efficient lighting with controls. The schools will also receive retro commissioning of heating and cooling systems to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality. BPS will install solar and battery systems where possible to lower GHG emissions and electricity costs, and to provide resiliency to these schools that serve disadvantaged communities as emergency shelters.

The project will also support workforce development by funding students in apprenticeship programs with scholarships at the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System and provide internships for engineering students at Housatonic Community College (HCC) and UConn who will work with Loureiro Engineering to support engineering design, construction management, and measurement and verification activities. The workforce development programs will invest over $150,000 in scholarships, education, and training programs for construction trades, technicians, and engineers in Connecticut. K-12 learning modules will be developed and delivered to BPS students by UConn’s Vergnano Institute for Inclusion, led by its Executive Director Stephany Santos, on energy efficient technologies for schools and their impacts on student health and learning. UConn will partner with local government agencies and Sustainable CT to disseminate project lessons learned and results to other school systems in Connecticut.

This competitive grant is a part of the $500 million Renew America’s Schools program, which aims to help K-12 public schools across the country make energy improvements that: improves air quality and occupant comfort in schools; reduces energy use and energy costs; lowers emissions; promotes STEM education, career and technical education and workforce development.

“I would like to thank the U.S. Department of Energy for awarding Bridgeport’s Public Schools with an Energy Efficiency Grant,” said Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim. “It’s an honor to receive funding to help provide our students with infrastructure improvements that can not only benefit our sustainability initiatives but will also be a great addition to the learning environments to our students. Bridgeport students deserve access to healthy learning spaces while influencing the importance of energy efficiency. With this grant, we hope this will serve as a model for adaptation in the City of Bridgeport to continue our journey towards being an environmentally friendly city.” 

When implemented, the planned projects are expected to lower energy usage by 1,000 megawatt hours and 32,000 CCF per year resulting in an expected minimum of $200,000 per year savings in energy costs for the two schools.


About UConn Engineering:

UConn School of Engineering is a powerhouse for research and engineering education in the State of Connecticut and beyond. We provide 51 percent of the State’s engineering graduates. We work with local and national industry to address pressing technological challenges and to strengthen our manufacturing base. We value entrepreneurship and innovation, and our students and faculty actively develop startups and new technologies in support of economic development. Equally important, initiatives in engineering for human rights, brownfields, cybersecurity and other current issues demonstrate our enduring commitment to addressing major challenges facing our society.


About Bridgeport Public Schools:


The mission of Bridgeport Public Schools is to inspire our diverse community to work together in order to serve our students.  We will support the development of excellent leadership, and utilize our unique resources to challenge and cultivate well-balanced individuals who seek knowledge and make significant contributions to society throughout their lives. The Bridgeport School District is the second-largest school system in Connecticut, servicing approximately 21,000 students. It also ranks lowest among the Connecticut school districts on the economic scale.

Download UConn BPS Energy Grant Press Release Here

Read more about the U.S. Department of Energy Renew America’s Schools Program Here