The University of Texas at Austin
  • Here comes the sun

    By Katherine Kahlke
    Published: July 12, 2011
    Solar panels at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus.Photo: Marsha Miller

    A ceremony held June 2 celebrated the completion of the largest solar power system at one location in the city of Austin. Dr. Pat Clubb, vice president for University Operations, flipped an oversized switch to represent the start-up of the system, accompanied by cheers from the guests and strains of the Beatles hit, “Here Comes the Sun.”

    At the J. J. Pickle Research Campus (PRC) in north Austin, the system consists of two solar arrays. One is incorporated on top of a newly built carport structure alongside the Bureau of Economic Geology administration building. The other, nearly 10 times larger and covering more than an acre, is a ground-mounted system south of the Microelectronics & Engineering Research Center building.

    According to Juan Nuñez, associate director for Facilities Services at PRC, the system provides more than 400,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, equivalent to powering 40 average area homes. Monitors in three locations at PRC display in real time the energy generated by the system and amount of greenhouse gas emissions reduced.

    “By offsetting a portion of the power currently being used at PRC, the system saves 263 tons of carbon dioxide per year from being emitted into the atmosphere — savings comparable to planting more than 9,000 trees or taking 58 cars off Austin’s streets,” he explained.

    Solar panels at the PRC
    The solar power system at PRC provides more than 400,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Photo: Constance Meyer

    At the ceremony, Clubb announced that the solar energy system will be a teaching tool as well as a means of producing energy and encouraging conservation.

    “Our friends in the Cockrell School of Engineering will make this technology a means of education through the UTeachEngineering program,” she said. “With UTeachEngineering as a partner, the PRC solar project is poised to serve as a critical resource on solar power for secondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students and teachers.”

    According to Vincent Torres, associate director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources in the Cockrell School of Engineering and facilities coordinator of the UTeachEngineering program, high school students will tour the solar array to learn about the benefits of solar power as well as possible career paths. He noted that engineering students in the Cockrell School can also use data collected from the system to work toward their capstone projects.

    “Projects like this one allow the university to serve as a ‘living laboratory,’” Clubb said, adding that the system is “another step in expanding the university’s impact on future generations.”

    The system was made possible by a $1.6 million grant from the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) in 2010, which covered 80 percent of the costs. The university funded the remaining 20 percent. The SECO grants allotted federal stimulus dollars to encourage development of renewable energy, energy conservation projects and energy education.

    Project contractor Jamail & Smith Construction and subcontractor Texas Solar Power Company, both of Austin, constructed the solar power system and installed the monitors. The project enabled these companies and another subcontractor to retain 36 jobs and create three new ones.

    • Quote 2
      One Solar said on Sept. 19, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.
      The solar energy system will be a teaching tool as well as a means of producing energy and encouraging conservation.
    • Quote 2
      Mark said on Aug. 29, 2011 at 7:19 p.m.
      When it comes to solar energy and the installation of photovoltaic systems, Texas in no way compares to places like California, Hawaii, and Arizona. However, Austin is a national hotspot. But to anyone who knows anything about Austin, that should not come as a surprise. I'm sure that with the incredible decline in the price of solar modules we'll see the entire state "going solar" very soon.
    • Quote 2
      Frances Starling Boesch said on July 20, 2011 at 5:34 p.m.
      Amazed at the research going on at the University of Texas. Was it just not published in the 50's and 60's, when I was in school? There seems to have been work being done then.
    • Quote 2
      Belladante said on July 16, 2011 at 12:50 a.m.
      Thanks for the insight. I'm fascinated by the reasons behind the piece, very helpful information. Keep up the great work & bring on the sunshine. renewable energy
    • Quote 2
      BillW said on July 15, 2011 at 6:53 p.m.
      It's about time! Texas should lead the way in solar power. Kudos to UT for (finally) stepping up.
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