BERKELEY, Calif (Reuters) - Concern over global warming has more U.S. college students looking into careers in alternative energy, leading U.S. universities to add new courses on clean energy technologies and the environment.
“Students see an opportunity for challenging jobs and a way to do some good for the planet,” Dan Kammen, an energy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said.
The number of Berkeley undergraduates enrolled in introductory energy courses has almost tripled and a new graduate class in solar photovoltaics signed up 70 students, the largest course in recent memory at UC’s College of Engineering.
“Over the last two years, demand for energy courses is off the charts here,” Kammen said.
Venture capital cash is fueling new companies and jobs developing alternative energies like nanotech solar cells and biofuels generated by enzymes and termites. Venture capital for energy and environmental technology in several regions of the world in 2006 nearly doubled from a year earlier to $1.28 billion.
At Stanford University in Silicon Valley, the Petroleum Engineering Department has renamed itself the Energy Resources Engineering Department. The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has offered courses in green architecture and sustainable development.
Other U.S. schools targeting green technologies and eco-friendly programs include Middlebury College, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Williams College, Illinois State University, and the University of California at Davis.
Berkeley and Stanford had to turn away attendees from renewable energy symposiums organized by students.
The Stanford conference, which included senior partners from some of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, expected 500 people but 1,400 showed up, said Anjali Vaidya, a student studying material science and engineering.
“Sixty to 70 percent were students, many budding entrepreneurs and hoping to talk about opportunities with venture capitalists,” she said.
Ties to venture firms and clean-tech companies in the San Francisco area also are pursued by the new Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC), organized in 2005 by students at UC’s Haas School of Business.
Jit Bhattacharya, co-chairman of BERC and an MBA student, said students want good jobs in clean-tech companies but they also want something more: to help move the energy industry to renewable fuels and less dependence on oil.
“This is a big driving force. We want to have a large impact on global climate issues, on energy security. We want to be part of this issue,” he said, adding: “The clean tech industry will have a direct impact on our world in the next decade.”
Christine Rosen, a professor at the Haas School, said the Bush administration’s slow response to global warming and California’s new law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “have sparked a kind of gold rush in the renewable energy field.”
“There is a fad dynamic to this, but I think that this is going to be a long-term thing,” Rosen said in an e-mail. “Technological innovation, the rising cost of oil, conflict in the Middle East and the public’s growing awareness of global climate change are having an impact.”
An institution with established green credentials is Vermont’s Middlebury College, which launched the first U.S. undergraduate Environmental Studies major in 1965.
The program helps students to realize that the environment is not a stand-alone issue, said Daniela Salaverry, a Middlebury grad who works on environmental programs in China for San Francisco-based Pacific Environment.
“The environment is incorporated into every aspect of the world. The program gives you the opportunity to consider environmental consulting or working for alternative energies or corporate social responsibility,” Salaverry said.