Research, Education, Information, Networking, and Advocacy for a Transition to Renewable Energy
Dr. Ben Luce
Renewable Energy Now! was founded by theoretical physicist and long-time renewable energy researcher, educator, and advocate, Dr. Ben Luce, who also serves as the principle instructor for REN!. “Dr. Ben” holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in physics, and has studied, taught, and advocated for renewable energy development since the mid 1990s. He began advocating for renewable energy after become gravely concerned about Climate Change after being exposed to the results of climate science research at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he was a physicist in the Theoretical Division from 1993-2007. After studying the potential of various potential paths to emission reductions, he became convinced, well before it was widely fashionable to do so, that renewable energy sources, especially solar energy, had enormous but untapped potential to solve the problem, and that the cost of renewable energy would inevitably fall rapidly (as it finally has), if the market for renewables would simply continue to expand.
After researching renewable energy technology in more detail for several years in the mid 1990s, and volunteering with local companies in New Mexico on solar installation projects to learn the ropes first-hand, he began volunteering with the New Mexico Solar Energy Association (NMSEA) on various outreach efforts. He then took the reins of the NMSEA, serving as its President of the NMSEA from 2000-2005, and Vice President from 2005-2007. In this capacity he oversaw the deployment of NMSEA’s SunChaser Education Program, developed numerous education materials for NMSEA including curricula for students and NMSEA’s Passive Solar Guidelines, gave hundreds of demonstrations at schools and public presentations, and organized many solar tours and energy fairs around New Mexico. The slideshow below shares some images from this period (if you’re viewing this on a smart phone, trying turning is sideways to see the photos behind the captions better):
In addition to his efforts at renewable energy education, in the belief that having the right policies in place is just as essential to spurring real change, Dr. Ben also co-founded the New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy (CCAE) in the late 1990s with several other New Mexico environmentalists, forming a large coalition of environmental groups dedicated to advocating for clean energy policy. Dr. Ben then ardently engaged in advocacy at the State Legislature and Public Regulation Commission with the CCAE over the next decade. Although a challenging task given the enormous level of undue influence of the fossil fuel industry on state government in New Mexico, these efforts eventually led to the adoption by New Mexico of a strong Renewable Energy Standard, production tax credits for wind power, a solar tax credit, a PV RECs purchase program, enhanced solar rights, and other pro-renewable energy policies. Here are some images associated with this work:
In 2008 Dr. Ben relocated to Vermont, a region he developed a special affection for in his youth, and has taught physics and renewable energy ever since at Vermont State University (previously known at Lyndon State College and then Northern Vermont University) in the Department of Natural Sciences, where he is a (tenured) Professor of Physics. His regular course on Energy & Environment has inspired a significant number of students to pursue clean energy related career paths. He has also been closely involved in the development of various renewable energy systems in the region, including two systems on campus (a PV system and a large solar hot water system) which he utilizes in his teaching and research at the university, and also the first community solar PV system sited on a church building in Vermont (at First Universalist Parish in Derby Line). He has also been involved in renewable energy policy statewide, promoting a solar RECs buyback program at the Legislature which helped spur Vermont’s statewide solar adder incentive, and also in opposing ridge-line sited wind power development in the state, which he judged to be inappropriate based on a combination of environmental impacts and the very small overall resource potential that this particular renewable energy source has in the Northeast US. (Note: Vermont has in fact since completely turned away from this type of development to focus mainly on solar power, while Dr. Ben also remains a strong supporter of wind energy development in the Midwest and other regions of large wind energy potential where development can occur with an appropriately low level of impact to the environment).
While at VSU, Dr. Ben has also pursued extensive research into the use of heat pumps coupled with thermal energy storage as a means of reducing oil consumption in greenhouses (with the heat pumps placed inside the greenhouses so as to be able to very efficiently capture and store excess solar energy during the day for use at night). See “Reduction in Cold Season Greenhouse Heating Fuel via Recovery of Excess Solar Heat with Heat Pumps,” B. A. Krug and B. P. Luce, Acta Hort. (ISHS) 1170:539 – 546, 2017.
He has also authored clean energy guides and reports for the State of Vermont, pursued research with students on the integration of renewable energy with sustainable farming, on micro-hydropower development, on hydrogen as an energy storage medium, on optimal combinations of energy storage with solar electric systems, and on the impacts and management of snow on solar energy systems. Materials on some of this research, or on the above mentioned greenhouse research, can be accessed on our Research Page.
The following photos share some images from Dr. Ben’s years of renewable energy work in Vermont:
In 2022 Dr. Ben re-energized his links with the New Mexico Solar Energy Association, authoring an historical summary of the organization ahead of the Solar 2002 Conference of the American Solar Energy Association (ASES), which appeared in the nationwide magazine Solar Today, and helped organize the NMSEA Solar Fiesta! event in conjunction with the Conference at the University of New Mexico.
Finally, seeing a need for more widespread foundational education in renewable energy in general, he founded Renewable Energy Now! in May 2022. A paper describing his experiences, and a Call-to-Action, can be downloaded here.