The Bio-Info-Nano Research and Development Institute (BIN-RDI) of the University of California, Santa Cruz, held the first of a series of workshops on the future of local electric microgrids on June 5, 2009. A group of invited experts from academia and industry discussed the critical issues in using renewable energy sources to generate reliable, stable electric power.

More than 30 participants spent one day of intense interaction at the UCSC Silicon Valley Center in the NASA Ames Research Park at Moffett Field, California. The sessions, which included formal presentations and discussion, addressed many key challenges of renewable energy, including:

. The inefficient use of existing forms of energy. Legacy modes of inefficiency could persist in processes created to manage newer forms of energy, as evidenced in highly inefficient sleep cycles in today's large computing hubs.

. The intermittent nature of renewable energy. Increased storage capacity is needed to cope with the intermittent availability of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and ocean power. Storage problems could be solved through the use of larger versions of the now-successful electric car battery or in batches of these employed for use in a local grid. Other means are under investigation as well.

. The capacity to achieve nationally sustainable management practices in the business of energy. Trading stored forms of renewable energy will be more complex than in the past. Also, as more people turn to rechargeable means of storing energy, the current economies of scale achieved by electric utilities during downtimes could be threatened. Downtime might become a thing of the past.

Participants in the workshop came from eight universities, three large Silicon Valley companies, and several Silicon Valley startups. Together they represented a global community of researchers and practioners. Their next steps include drafting a proposal to establish more renewable energy test beds similar to one under development by UCSC's Jack Baskin School of Engineering at the NASA Ames Research Park; developing more collaboration between institutions; and expanding the expert participant list. Additional information about the workshops is available on the BIN-RDI Workshop web site.

The Jack Baskin School of Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz, prepares technologists--and sponsors technology--for our changing world. Founded in 1997, Baskin Engineering trains students in six future-focused areas of engineering: applied mathematics and statistics; biomolecular engineering; computer engineering; computer science; electrical engineering; and technology and information management. Baskin Engineering faculty conduct industry-leading research that is improving the way the world does business, treats the environment, and nurtures humanity.

The mandate of the Bio-Info-Nano Research and Development Institute (BIN-RDI) includes the generation of renewable, sustainable solutions to the energy challenges confronting our world. The institute, headed by Michael Isaacson, the Narinder Singh Kapany Professor of Optoelectronics at the Baskin School of Engineering, establishes partnerships among universities, Silicon Valley companies, and federal laboratories at the UCSC facilities at NASA Ames in the heart of Silicon Valley. The BIN-RDI was formed as a new model of public-private partnership between academia, industry and government. It receives major funding and support from NASA and is currently located in the Advanced Studies Laboratories (ASL), a partnership between NASA Ames and UCSC.