Scientific literacy professor weighs in on alternate energy for Florida

Lucas built “off the grid” home in Maine 13 years ago

Published Sep. 13, 2010

Frank LucasFrank Lucas, assistant professor of global warming and scientific literacy in Lynn University’s College of Liberal Education, is an expert on alternate energy solutions. “With a consistent source of energy from the sun here in Florida,” said Lucas, “alternate energy is a huge untapped potential.”

According to a recent article in Florida Today, “Solar power’s time to shine in Florida,” Florida is “one of 23 states that hasn't agreed to a renewable energy portfolio standard, which requires that state utilities generate a certain amount of electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources.”

Although interest for using alternate energy in Florida has seemed to decline since the beginning of the recession, Lucas feels strongly that Florida should continue with alternate energy solutions despite the decrease in grants and funding.

Five renewable energy techniques Florida could implement, according to Lucas:
  • install photovoltaic panels on rooftops
  • capture cellulose in crops by using crushed sugarcane stalks as the starting material to enzymatically convert cellulose to fermented alcohol for fuel using solar distillation or conventional distillation to harvest alcohol
  • extract oil from algae rather than using palm oil which requires the destruction of tropical forests
  • use wave power generators in the ocean and/or intracoastal waterway
  • use wind turbine electrical generators

Florida Today suggested grid parity as a solution for implementing new technologies to capture energy, but Lucas believes using photovoltaic panels to enhance Florida Power & Light’s current infrastructure would be a better way to go.

According to Lucas, the sun and wind are intermittent sources for energy, so the user can’t rely completely on it. “The investment has already been made to get power to the homes and businesses,” said Lucas. “Photovoltaic can plug into the power grid and run the 220 volt meters backwards.”

Lucas’s “off the grid” house in Maine

Off the grid homeLucas's interest in alternate energy solutions is not only professional but also a personal. In 1997, Lucas and his family built an “off the grid home” on 150 acres of remote land in Maine that integrated wind power, photovoltaics and a conventional generator.

“I wanted to make a point to my three children about achievement, scope of a project and that scale should not be an obstacle to them,” said Lucas. “So almost 14 years ago I decided to build a log cabin, and I wanted my family to participate in this as a family project.”

Lucas, his family, and four additional men, built the “off the grid” home from the ground up using a cabin kit.

“We created a road to the home that was 2.5 miles back through the woods, drilled a well, put in the house foundation and built the entire house kit out,” said Lucas. “The house was wired for 240/120-volt power and later 12-volt power. I installed a gas generator, added a bank of photovoltaic panels connected to a battery bank and inverter for night electrical use and later installed a 500-watt windmill.”

As part of his global warming class last spring, Lucas asked his students what they planned to do to address global warming. In addition, as part of his commitment to end global warming, Lucas planted 2,000 trees in Maine.

“That was my contribution,” said Lucas. "Some students said they would calculate their carbon footprint and find ways to reduce it by changing their behavior, others mentioned helping the environment by joining various environmental organizations like Save the Whales and Sea Turtle Rescue."

More on Lucas:

Frank Lucas is an assistant professor of global warming and scientific literacy in Lynn University’s College of Liberal Education. He has scientific interests that include alternate energy solutions, global warming, medical science and system engineering.

Lucas came to Lynn in 2008 following a long career in product development. He has developed over 100 commercial products and authored 13 U.S. patents and 3 European patents. In 1981, he was the principal investigator for an alternate energy grant that used crushed sugarcane stalks as the starting material to enzymatically convert cellulose to fermented alcohol for fuel using solar distillation to harvest alcohol. In addition, Lucas is a partner in a NASCAR short track race car and served as the crew chief responsible for suspension race set up.

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