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University Completes Third Solar Project

The University of Texas at Austin has expanded its solar energy footprint with the addition of solar arrays on top of the Manor Parking Garage and the roof of a Facilities Complex building.

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The University of Texas at Austin has expanded its solar energy footprint with the addition of solar arrays on top of the Manor Parking Garage and the roof of a Facilities Complex building.

Engineering assistant professor Michael Webber will discuss these projects and the energy challenges faced by the university, Texas, and across the globe at a public lecture on Friday, February 24, at 7 p.m., at Welch Hall Auditorium.

Together with the solar photovoltaic system already in place at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, the university now manages over 500 kilowatts of solar photovoltaic power. The Facilities Complex system could produce as much as 305,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy annually, close to 30 percent of the 1 million kilowatt-hours of energy consumed annually across the eight Facilities Complex buildings, located at 1301 East Dean Keeton.

All three photovoltaic systems are designed to feed real time information to university researchers studying the performance of solar panels. In addition, the Manor Garage system features three arrays with different panels and inverters, which convert power generated by the panels into usable current. These arrays will allow researchers to study variations in their performance over time.

“We’re providing a hands-on educational experience for engineering students and researchers while offsetting a portion of the annual electrical load at the university,” explained Webber, assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering and co-director of the university’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. “These arrays are essentially living laboratories where both academic and operational departments can gain information about solar power as a source of renewable energy.”

Like the project at the Pickle Research Campus, the Manor Garage and Facilities Complex installations were funded jointly by the university and grants from the State Energy Conservation Office . For the Manor Garage, the state provided $195,000 and the university Parking and Transportation Services contributed $125,000. The Facilities Complex project was funded by a $900,000 state grant and $125,000 in university funds, $75,000 of which came from the student supported UT Austin Green Fee.

“We’re always looking for projects that are innovative for both university operations and for research purposes,” said Jim Walker, the university’s director of sustainability. “The Facilities Complex installation was particularly supported by Facilities Services as an addition to their sustainability services in energy efficiency, water conservation and recycling. The Manor Garage installation was supported by Parking and Transportation Services as a way to increase the usability of the roof of the parking garage and lower their power bill.”

Fred Beach, research associate with the university Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, managed the projects. Contractors for both projects were Alpha Building Corporation of San Antonio and Meridian Solar of Austin, which installed the arrays. Solar panels used on the Manor Garage project were manufactured by First Solar, Sharp, and SunPower. Solar World supplied the panels for the Facilities Complex project, and inverters for that project were made by Ideal Power Converters.

Webber will discuss these projects and other energy issues as part of a series of lectures co-sponsored by the university Environmental Science Institute and the Green Fee Committee. The lecture entitled “From Fracking to the 40 Acres” will be preceded at 5:45 p.m. by a fair that will showcase projects that received Green Fee Awards in 2011, such as the Facilities Complex solar installation. Visit “Hot Science, Cool Talks” for details about the lecture and fair.