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Fall 2006 Vol. V, No. 1

Feature articles: AUB's Energy Research Group

When you think of energy, what comes to mind? If you are living in the United States, you probably think of record-setting gas prices. If you are living in Lebanon, however, you may have different concerns: EDL (Electricité du Liban) announced in early June that it would increase power rationing around the country from four to six hours a day. Whether it is gas for your car or electricity for your home, there is no question that energy-getting access to it, being able to afford it, its importance in development-is a critical issue.

For more than six years now, AUB has had an Energy Research Group (ERG), a group of professors from the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture who are researching many energy-related issues- just a few of many projects are listed here. Since November 2003 several ERG members have been collaborating on an extraordinary project called the Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development (GNESD), an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development (GNESD)
The ERG is actually one of the Centres of Excellence, a founding member-and the first group to be nominated for membership from the Arab world-of the GNESD. It is a network of institutions and companies around the world that are working together to address energy, environmental, and development issues. GNESD has identified three key energy challenges that confront the poor in developing countries: "reliance on biofuels that harm human health and the environment; inadequate access to cleaner energy services, such as electricity, for productive purposes and institutional applications; incomes that are too low (as well as limited access to appropriate financing schemes) to allow the poor to procure cleaner and more sustainable energy services, such as electricity, that are more expensive."

Improving Access to Energy
There are currently two working groups at AUB conducting research related to ERG's involvement with GNESD. The Energy Access Working Group is looking at power sector reforms and the impact of these reforms on poor people. Many experts agree that past reform efforts that were structured to improve efficiency, facilitate divestiture, and guarantee future energy supply in an open globalized energy market "have not generally benefited the poor and have in some cases even introduced new limitations on access to electricity."

Farid Chaaban, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is the lead author on a report that the ERG has recently prepared for GNESD that includes policy implementation guidelines for sustainable energy development in Lebanon. The investigators looked at two successful case studies (Brazil and South Africa/Zimbabwe) to determine what should be done in places like Lebanon to ensure that poor people are able to benefit from improved, cleaner, and more sustainable energy. After a long and detailed study, they came up with the following recommendations: increase the use of natural gas, rehabilitate existing power plants to reduce production costs, install equipment so that solar energy can be used to heat water, and invest in hydraulic and wind power plants.

Is Solar Energy the answer?
One of the above recommendations relates to solar energy. It is curious that even though the two elements that are needed for solar energy-sun and wind-are widely available, there is less use of solar energy in the region than you might expect. Nesreen Ghaddar, the Qatar Chair for Energy Studies at AUB and the principal investigator of the Renewable Energy Technology Working Group, and her colleagues are working on a project to encourage the use of domestic solar water heaters (DSWH) in Lebanon. Although passive heating through solar energy is widely used to heat water for

domestic purposes in several countries in the area (Jordan, Cyprus, and Turkey, for example), the use of DSWHs is still very limited. Why? Well, there are several reasons: the high initial cost; people's nervousness about the reliability of solar water heaters; and the lack of trained technicians who can install, operate, and maintain DSWHs. Ghaddar explains that the goal of the working group is to make specific policy recommendations to develop the renewable energy technology sector in Lebanon.

Several AUB students have also gotten involved in researching solar energy. Ahmad Chabaklo, Hussein Makki, and Toufic Saccal, who graduated in June 2006, collaborated on an interesting final-year project: "Solar Powered Grid Connected Inverter with Maximum Power Point Tracking." One of the reasons that solar energy is not more widely used is the limited usefulness of passive solar energy and the high cost of photovoltaic (PV) systems that are necessary to take advantage of the sun's potential. These students designed, built, and tested a system that can supply energy to the power grid. Sami Karaki, their supervisor, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and ERG coordinator, explains, "The system is able to extract from the PV cells the maximum power available and inject it to the grid. This is exactly the type of system that will be needed-and will have to be widely available-if solar energy is ever going to be a viable energy source."

ERG: A Resource for the University too
The University is also benefiting from the expertise of ERG members. At the request of President Waterbury, the ERG has been asked to recommend a long-term energy policy to promote energy conservation and reduce energy costs at the University. Although the project is still in its early stages (it was only started in March 2006), the investigators expect to find that simple yet effective technologies-such as the use of more efficient lighting, better handling of fresh air, and solar heating-could dramatically reduce the University's energy bill. AUB faculty members, engineers, and students involved in the project are conducting energy audits of the Bechtel Engineering Building and the new Women's Dorms (Bustani Hall) and plan to conduct similar audits of other buildings on campus as well. As part of the energy audit, they are using infrared cameras to measure heat infiltration through doors and windows to determine exactly how much heat is getting into buildings through what appear to be "closed" doors and windows.

Energy affects all aspects of development-social, economic, and environmental. It also affects all of us in a very personal way whether we are one of the 1.6 billion people who "do not have access to electricity or other clean and modern fuels such as kerosene, LPG and natural gas" or one of the "more fortunate" people who are frustrated with high gas prices, worried about the environment, or sweating through the summer because the power keeps going off! The members of AUB's Energy Research Group are increasing our understanding of and recommending solutions to many of the most important problems related to energy, the environment, and economic development-problems that affect all of us.

Current ERG Projects:

Hamed Assaf, an assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, is working to identify ways to promote an integrated approach to water resources management and planning with an emphasis on energy and environmental issues.

Riad Chedid, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is forecasting the energy potential of the Arab market using an econometric model for OAPEC (Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) countries.

Mutasem El.Fadel, a professor of Environmental Engineering, is working with the World Bank on environmental safeguards for power plants that are being rehabilitated in Iraq.

Isam Kaysi, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering who specializes in transportation, is conducting research related to energy use of passenger and freight transport systems.

Toufic Mezher, a professor of Engineering Management, is researching corporate social responsibility as a new and emerging objective in corporations that are working to solve environmental problems.

Fadl Moukalled, an associate dean and professor of Mechanical Engineering, is conducting research in computational fluid dynamics that involves, among other things, optimizing the performance of energy-related equipment.

Alan Shihadeh, an assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering, is investigating the chemistry and fluid mechanics of combustion flames to figure out how to reduce the formation of pollution in combustion processes.

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