New solar system offers UTSA energy scholars, students new research opps

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(Nov. 28, 2011) -- At a time when UTSA is moving toward Tier One research status and in support of Mayor Julian Castro's vision to make San Antonio a green energy and clean technology hub, UTSA will unveil the Main Campus portion of its new solar system at an electronic ribbon cutting Monday, Nov. 28. The solar photovoltaic project, a collaborative effort of the UTSA College of Engineering, Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute and Office of the Vice President for Business Affairs, will save the university an estimated $86,000 in annual energy costs.

>> UTSA's "Catching the Sun" ribbon cutting will be at 3:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 28 at the University Center Harris Room (2.212) on the UTSA Main Campus. From 2 to 3 p.m., members of the media are invited to preview the solar installation atop the University Center.

"This new solar system is an excellent example of the Tier One work that is already underway at UTSA," said UTSA President Ricardo Romo. "We can now say with great pride that UTSA offers engineering students everything they need to develop successful careers in the solar energy industry."

UTSA's solar energy system is expected to produce 427,000 kWh of energy per year. The Main Campus project includes a 140 kW solar grid on University Center South and a 30 kW solar grid on the campus' Engineering Building. Early next year, UTSA will install a solar system on the Durango Building at its Downtown Campus. Also slated for installation are 10 electric vehicle charging stations, eight in the Bosque Garage on the Main Campus and two at the Downtown Campus.

The UTSA Main Campus solar systems are connected to a real-time monitoring system that will allow researchers and students to study solar power in various climates. The monitoring system combines sensors tracking hundreds of other data parameters such as irradiance, temperature, wind, DC and AC power, and power quality. The advanced sensor network transmits the data wirelessly to devices that measure the more than 800 data signals per second (130 Gigabytes per year).

That data then is transmitted to redundant servers in another building on the UTSA Main Campus to ensure uninterrupted monitoring and storage of the data for up to 10 years. When the Downtown Campus solar system is installed, it also will contribute data to the real-time monitoring system. In all cases, the data will be accessible online for UTSA researchers and students through a Web portal currently under development.

The UTSA solar energy system is expected to have a significant environmental impact. As is, the system is equal to planting 68 acres of trees. It also will reduce the university's carbon dioxide emissions by 695,000 pounds per year and the carbon footprint by 87.5 metric tons per year.

UTSA partners thus far have included Texas Solar, which was the contractor and designed and installed the solar photovoltaic systems; Ideal Power Converters, which supplied unique, advanced inverters; VI Design Group and National Instruments, which provided the sensor network and network equipment; Dell, which provided the computer servers; and Alderson and Associates, UTSA's engineering consultant firm.

The two-phase project is funded by two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants totaling nearly $2 million from the State Energy Conservation Office under the Distributed Renewable Energy Technology Stimulus Grant program. Enacted in 2009, the ARRA, better known as the stimulus bill, was an economic recovery package adopted to help states stabilize budgets and stimulate economic growth.

The bill allocated approximately $111 billion toward infrastructure and science including approximately $21.5 billion through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies for scientific research and development projects.