October 2005

Former FSEC Director Writes Book on the History of the Center

EnergyWhiz Olympics participants with H2 car
The Florida Solar Energy Center was established in 1975 in Cape Canaveral.
(File Photo)

It started at FSEC's 25th anniversary celebration in 2000 when former UCF administrator C.B. Gambrell pulled center director Dave Block aside. You really need to get the history of this place down in writing sometime, Gambrell told him. So much has happened in the first 25 years that it's going to be hard to remember everything. You ought to write a book on the history of the center.

"I'd been thinking about doing just such a thing," Block explained, "but C.B.'s idea hit me at just the right moment. I knew it was something that had to be done, and I knew I was the one to do it."

Block had been director of the center for 24 of its first 25 years, so he was indeed the person who knew everything that had gone on - the major research projects, the people and events, and the details of such activities as the move to the Cocoa site. Two years later, when he stepped down as center director, he began the job of telling FSEC's story.

I guess looking back on it," he reflected, "it turned out to be a whole lot more work than I ever imagined. Once I got into the details, like looking through all of our old photos, I realized what a big job this would be."

Participants at the starting line of the Junior Solar Sprint
The public comes out for one of FSEC's first workshops on solar energy, led by Art Litka.
(File Photo)

He started out by putting together an outline of the events he recalled. Then he went through every one of the center's annual reports, pulling out the key details. The big job ahead of him, though, was going through FSEC's photo library. "I had absolutely no idea of how many photos we had of the people, the activities and the many events at the center. I ended up using more than 400 photos in the book and this only scratched the surface of the many great photos I had to choose from."

Once he got the text down on paper and put the appropriate photos with them, one big job remained. "There were some activities over the years that just didn't get well documented or that only could be remembered by the people involved. The move to our current location is just one example. So many things happened to make this move possible that weren't part of any annual reports or other articles. This was a matter of me putting down all that I remembered, then checking with others who were involved to double check the facts and add additional information they might have.

The result of this three-year effort is a hard-bound book entitled "30 Years Under the Sun." Its 278 pages document in detail the highlights of FSEC's first 30 years. The book will be available for sale through FSEC's Public Affairs Office starting next month for $25 per copy (including tax and shipping). Check out our home page ( www.fsec.ucf.edu ) for full information.

Here are some excerpts from the book to share with you some milestones from the center's first 30 years.

The Florida Energy Committee:

Recommending a Solar Energy Center for Florida

Anyone old enough to remember the 1973 OPEC oil embargo may also recall personal or televised images of cars snaking backward from gas pumps, clustering bumper to bumper across gas-station driveways and spilling in disorganized pools onto thoroughfares. Nationally, President Nixon responded by implementing 55 mph speed limits, permanent daylight savings time and energy price controls.

It was in this national context that forward-thinking Florida leaders, including Governor Reubin Askew, called for a statewide energy conference. Its purpose would be to provide a forum for examining and evaluating the energy issues facing the state.

In response, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Energy Committee. Its charge was to:

  • Study the policies affecting energy conservation and use in Florida;
  • Study the available sources of energy for use in Florida;
  • Recommend a comprehensive system of energy policies to meet the needs of Florida; and
  • Recommend administrative, statutory, or constitutional changes necessary to improve energy policies.

This committee and legislative leadership were the forces that sparked the concept of a Florida solar energy center.

The 15-member committee was composed of four senators, four representatives, joint legislative alternates and seven members appointed by Governor Askew. It was co-chaired by Florida State Senator George Firestone and State Representative Kenneth H. (Buddy) MacKay, Jr. MacKay later became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Florida's Lieutenant Governor for two terms under Lawton Chiles.

The other Legislative members were Senators Jack Gordon, Warren Henderson and Alan Trask, and Representatives A. H. Craig, A. S. Robinson and Guy Spicola. Senate alternates were Lew Brantley and David Lane. House alternates were Gary Cunningham, Pat Thomas, Lorenzo Walker, Walter Young and Vernon Holloway. The Governor's appointees were: Arthur England, attorney; Dr. Erich Farber, University of Florida; Marshall McDonald, President, Florida Power & Light Company; Raymond Mason, Chairman, The Charter Company; Dr. Sybil Mobley, Department of Business and Economics; Nils Schweizer, architect and Hal Scott of the Audubon Society.

The Solar Training and Education Project (SETP) is dedicated in 1985 by David Block and Marvin Yarosh of FSEC and Sen. John Vogt.
(File Photo)

Committee functions were carried out by Executive Director Marvin Yarosh and a professional staff of eight, which eventually grew to 11. Yarosh came to Florida from a long and distinguished technical career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The Energy Committee began its formal activities in October 1973. During initial meetings, members heard testimony from a range of experts on energy policy, research needs, available resources and development activities. The committee devoted its attention to understanding the energy problem and its relationship to Florida.

The following statements, taken from the committee's 1974 and 1975 reports frame perceptions of the energy problem in 1973 and 1974. Consider their continued relevance today.

Few dispute that there is an energy problem, few energy experts disagree that the problem may be one of the most complex, most frustrating, and least tractable problems our nation and the world has ever faced. In its inter-discipline complexity, it overshadows the largely technical achievements of either the Manhattan or the Moon project. Not only technical facets, but also economic, political, sociological, and environmental factors are included within its breadth. In the energy area, we are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, a global impact which reflects the phenomenal increase in man's use of the Earth's resources over the past 100 years

Florida derives about 93 percent of its total energy from petroleum or natural gas and is thus almost totally dependent on these resources. Florida is therefore potentially more sensitive to present or impending shortages of these resources than the nation as a whole where 75 percent of energy resource use is from petroleum or natural gas.

At the time of the oil embargo, the United States was importing approximately 32 percent of its petroleum. It is unlikely that present consumption could ever again be supplied from domestic reserves.

The initiation, for example, of offshore drilling on state or federal owned land, if successful, would require several years for even initial quantities of petroleum or natural gas to be secured, and these are not assured sources of energy for exclusive use in Florida. New refineries require a minimum of three to five years for construction and since Florida has no refineries at the present time, any petroleum found in Florida offshore waters must be sent elsewhere for processing. The degree of control that Florida might exercise over such resources is uncertain.

Over the past 12 years, annual energy growth rate has been 7.6 percent within the state. Over the 1950 to 1970 period, Florida's population grew at approximately a 4.6 percent rate. Over this period, population increased by a factor of 2.4, while energy use increased five fold. Florida's energy growth rates dramatically exceed those for the United States and the World. At the present growth rate for electrical power (11 percent annually), and correcting for anticipated saturation limits in energy and population, Florida may require 145,000 Megawatts of electrical capacity by the year 2000.

[Author's note: Florida currently has approximately 42,000 Megawatts of electrical capacity, which illustrates the success of our energy efficiency programs and points to a likely error in the original projections.]

The use of non-depletable resources such as solar energy, ocean temperature differences, and wind resources has been suggested as a viable alternative to our present depletion of fossil reserves. Of these, the application of solar energy appears to be the most immediately attractive for the state of Florida. It seems likely that if an intensive effort to develop this application is made, then within five years significant numbers of installations using solar energy could be in operation in Florida. It should be recognized, however, that it is unlikely that even within 10 years solar energy will handle more than a very few percent of total energy use within the state. This is characteristic, however, of most actions that can be taken.

Decisions are being made now which will influence our energy consumption rates for decades to come. Buildings are under design or construction (the new Capitol, for instance) whose rate of energy consumption will be largely fixed for the building life by designs employed during the "cheap energy era." With the expected escalation of energy costs over the coming years, it is likely that such designs should be significantly altered to reflect the higher operating costs for energy. We are examining the consuming sectors for energy within the state to identify the areas and actions for energy savings.

The quadrupling of petroleum prices within the past eighteen months, coupled with a downturn in the economies of many of the industrialized nations, has resulted in a softening of U.S. and world demand for petroleum and the first small reductions in petroleum prices. In the first few months of 1975, world petroleum production capacity has exceeded demand; however, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel has demonstrated effectiveness in controlling the production and price of petroleum. Any reductions in world petroleum prices will help reduce the U.S. dollar drain ($25 billion in 1974) for petroleum but may strain U.S. efforts to reduce its dependence on foreign imports.

The University of Central Florida:

Taking on Administrative Responsibility

Testimony to, and reports from, the Energy Committee helped Florida's Legislature recognize the potential of solar energy in Florida's future. In 1974, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 721, which directed the Florida Board of Regents (BOR) to prepare a plan for a center that would work to develop solar energy applications deemed most important for Florida. The Legislature then passed Chapter 74-185 of the Florida Statutes. The act specified the following objectives for the Florida Solar Energy Center:

  • Advancing research and development in solar energy,
  • Engaging in demonstration projects,
  • Providing ongoing educational services for persons desiring technical knowledge of solar energy,
  • Developing and disseminating information,
  • Maintaining an information system on solar energy products, and
  • Providing technical assistance to State agencies in the development of solar energy information and standards.

The BOR tackled the process of establishing the new Solar Energy Center in the summer of 1974. The process asked for competitive proposals from Florida universities to locate and administer the new center. Three universities submitted proposals - the University of Central Florida (UCF, then called Florida Technological University), the University of Florida and the University of Miami. UCF's proposal won the competition.

An aerial view of the original site on 20 acres in Cape Canaveral.
(File Photo)

One attractive element of UCF's submittal was its proposal to place FSEC on its Cape Canaveral site. The 20-acre site included four existing buildings that offered approximately 14,000 square feet of working space. The site, which was virtually empty, could be used immediately for Center operations. In addition, the facilities included an auditorium, laboratories, a basic engineering library, television studios and offices. Moreover, the site offered ample space for outdoor solar test facilities and building expansions.

Another critical factor supporting the Cape location was that the space-race boom had recently gone bust. From its Cape Canaveral launch pads in Brevard County, NASA sent the first man to the moon in 1969 and the last in 1974. The demise of the Apollo program caused severe economic problems in the area. Brevard County, alone, lost an estimated 40,000 aerospace jobs.

The dire unemployment situation prompted Bill Nelson, a young member of the Florida House of Representatives, to put $1 million into the State budget for the Solar Center given that it be located in Brevard County. Nelson is now one of Florida's U.S. Senators and still a staunch supporter of solar energy research and development.

The Solar Energy Center Technical Advisory Committee, appointed by the BOR, spearheaded the Center's selection and implementation process. The committee was chartered to advise on the Center's organization, functions, location and operations. The BOR's Dr. William Phillips headed the committee, which included representatives of the governor's office, Florida's private and public universities, and the Florida Energy Committee.

The Advisory Committee recommended that, once created, FSEC should function as a component of the State University System (SUS). The BOR accepted this recommendation, along with one that the Center be situated on a 20-acre site at Cape Canaveral.

The Advisory Committee further recommended a budget of $1 million from Florida general revenue funds for the first year (1975-1976) - a recommendation in accord with Representative Nelson's legislative initiative. The committee also recommended that this funding level double after five years.

The committee foresaw that part of the Center's general revenue funds should be used to stimulate solar energy research and development in both public and private universities throughout the state. Thus, it recommended that the Center develop multilateral associations with such educational institutions.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) had originally supported development of the Cape Canaveral site. It assigned the site to the BOR which, in turn, assigned its operation to UCF. The Cape facilities were originally constructed by the University of Florida as a site from which to provide graduate engineering education to Cape engineers via closed circuit television. The NSF-funded project was called GENESYS (Graduate ENgineering Education SYStem).

The BOR officially established the Florida Solar Energy Center at the Cape Canaveral facilities in its January 1975 meeting. It also placed FSEC under UCF's administration.

In his inaugural address of January 8, 1975, quoted in the Orlando Sentinel Star, Florida Governor Reuben Askew said:

The genius of the Kennedy Space Center that placed men on the moon can be dedicated now to resolution of the serious energy problems that afflict us all. Just as Florida played such a vital role in space research, so too can we play a vital role in the solar research that is necessary if we are to find those new sources of energy.

The newspaper also quoted State University System Chancellor Robert B. Mautz:

The Center would provide several hundred jobs within a few months, with first year state funding expected to be $1 million, increasing to $3 million the second year. Very large amounts of federal funds will soon become available for energy research, development and demonstration, and the prospects for obtaining such funds for Florida are very good. The UCF site offered greater potential for national recognition in solar energy research and development due to the enormous resources of the Cape area.

Factors that decided the committee on UCF and its Canaveral facility as ideally suited for solar energy research and demonstration included:

  • Its geographic location, near the center of the state and convenient, through McCoy Jetport Orlando, to the whole nation
  • UCF's existing physical facility for the center
  • The support in the area
  • The potential major involvement of the Kennedy Space Center in future energy research and development projects.
EnergyWhiz Olympics participants with H2 car
  FSEC's original location was so close to KSC that shuttle launches could be clearly viewed.
(File Photo)

Many space-related industries are located near the site, which borders the space center. Virtually any required technical service is available in the area.

In addition, Vice President Gambrell emphasized the case for UCF's engineering program and joint use of facilities between the Cape and UCF. He concluded that they were instrumental in UCF's decision for the Cape's selection as FSEC's location. So, FSEC officially began in January 1975.



Establishment of the Research Agenda

Bruce Holbaugh and John Harrison make adjustments to test collector stands at the old site.
(File Photo)

FSEC was deemed a research organization from its very beginnings with initial research focused on solar water heating, solar air conditioning and space heating technologies.

From the very beginning, the Center tailored its research efforts toward the goal of attracting federal funds to the state. The next chapter will detail these activities, which were the beginning of the research agenda.

Another early and continuing goal was to support a solar energy industry in the state. University System Chancellor E.T. York highlighted this goal in a December 6, 1976, presentation to Lieutenant Governor J. H. Williams at a meeting of the Board of Regents. Chancellor York singled out solar energy's potential for significantly positive impacts on the university system and on the state's economic development. The Chancellor expressed the importance of developing a viable solar energy industry in Florida in stating:

EnergyWhiz Olympics participants with H2 car
Charlie Cromer works on test equipment at the Solar Hot Water System Lab.
(File Photo)

There is probably no other type of industry which is so needed and which fits so logically into Florida's economy than the solar energy industry. We believe we already have in place the essential components for development of a viable solar industry in the Florida Solar Energy Center and the recently created Florida Solar Industry Association. Through continuing Florida Solar Energy Center research and development, which is uniquely applicable to Florida's energy needs, the necessary components for a solar market may appear sooner than they would otherwise. As a direct result of the testing and certification programs for solar systems now being conducted at the Center, a program which has received enthusiastic support from Florida's fledgling solar industry, better products will be made and sold, and consumer confidence in solar systems will be developed to accelerate this process. It is suggested that several tax incentives, which could be effected with only insignificant losses in State revenues, should be pursued in the next legislative session.