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Beyond Solyndra: DOE Invests Big Time in Next Generation of Eco-Stars

09/16/2011 10:49 am ET | Updated Nov 15, 2011

We're all reading some uncomfortable reports in the news today about Solyndra, the solar company that declared bankruptcy last month and is now the target of a House investigation. It's tough to see good people and good intentions dragged before a Congressional Committee all to score some political points.

However these investigations turn out, I hope they don't taint the exciting work being done by folks at the U.S. Department of Energy -- in particular, their ongoing work to promote energy efficiency on college campuses across the country.

This takes shape with a couple of valuable initiatives. As I wrote about last week, DOE has partnered with us at SmartPower to launch America's Next Eco-Star, a nationwide search for the next generation of on-campus sustainability leaders. In tandem, they've kicked it up a notch with a $30 million grant to help universities train the next generation of industrial energy efficiency experts -- or, as we like to call them, eco-stars.

As part of the grant program, 24 universities in 23 states will each receive $200,000 to $300,000 per year for up to five years to train undergraduate- and graduate-level engineering students in manufacturing efficiency. Not too shabby!

As someone who believes that the efficiency mentality develops and matures in college, I could not be more pleased to see that these investments are being made at the university level. After all, the food chain of sustainability starts small: teach a young person the importance of turning off their lights to save money and energy, and someday that young person will be more likely to invest in deeper energy saving measures as a grown-up homeowner.

More important, I am thrilled to see that the next generation of college grads will be entering the ever-growing clean energy workplace. As U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a DOE news release: "The industrial efficiency training program opens the door to good jobs in a growing, global sector for thousands of energy-savvy students while promoting real, boots-on the-ground progress towards our transition to a clean energy economy."

These "energy-savvy students" that Secretary Chu speaks of are just the kind of people we're hoping to see compete for the ultimate title of America's Next Eco-Star. They are those students who have extraordinary passion and exceptional drive to change the way we use energy for the better -- and are eager to share this knowledge with their peers, driving real and lasting behavior change!

I look forward to witnessing the efficiency developments that are sure to derive from this program -- the ones that represent the future of American energy.

Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.