As President Barack Obama hails the opening of the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic power plant in DeSoto County, a University of Central Florida engineer credited with making the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) a world leader in renewable energy research is being honored by a national council.

David Block, director emeritus of FSEC, has received a special recognition award from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. The council, which Block helped found as the Interstate Solar Coordination Council in 1982, develops renewable energy programs and policies designed to lead to adoption of uniform guidelines, standards and quality assessment.

The award recognizes Block’s role in developing the first national standards for testing and certifying solar equipment, for serving as a “founding father” of the organization and for building UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center into the largest and most active state-supported solar energy institute in the nation.

Block served as FSEC director for 25 years before departing in 2002. He said he is especially proud of the fact that the center, which was founded in 1974 in response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, is now highly respected both nationally and internationally.

“FSEC is now a key player in national energy research,” he said. The center received $11.6 million in external grant funding in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Research is now focused on five energy activities: hydrogen, photovoltaics, solar thermal, fuel cells and building energy science.

Block still serves as project manager of three FSEC’s programs — the Florida Energy Systems Consortium and two Department of Energy-funded efforts, the Florida Hydrogen Initiative and the recently announced Southeast Solar Installer Training program. While it’s somewhat disappointing that the progression toward solar energy has been slow, he said it’s encouraging to see that initiatives such as the photovoltaic plant opened by Florida Power & Light in Arcadia this week are now being recognized.

The plant, one of three planned in the state by FPL, will produce enough power for about 3,000 homes. That’s only a small amount of the state’s demand.   However, Block said, the presence of the plants can help entice photovoltaic manufacturers to the state and has already had the effect of moving Florida from the bottom of the list of states using solar power to second in the nation after California.

“There seems to be a major turnaround today (in support for renewable energy) for a variety of reasons — peak oil problems, global warming and the creation of new jobs,” he said. “Today brings a new era to solar energy and our state and nation’s future.”