Successful Solar PV Arrays Generate ‘Green’ Interest at UTEP

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

UTEP’s two initial solar photovoltaic (PV) systems exceeded expectations in money saved and energy produced after their first year of operation. The solar systems also have generated additional interest for more “green” campus projects.

The University of Texas at El Paso’s arrays on the roof of the Student Recreation Center and on a carport at the Facilities Services headquarters recently completed a year of “flawless operation and energy production,” said Ralph Martinez, Ph.D., professor of engineering and UTEP’s director of energy initiatives.The solar arrays at UTEP produce enough electricity to power 43 average homes in El Paso. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceThe solar arrays at UTEP produce enough electricity to power 43 average homes in El Paso. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Martinez said the PV systems saved the University $43,000 in electricity costs and produced more than 335,000 kilowatts, an amount of energy that could annually power 43 typical  homes in the region. Other benefits included the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 214,000 pounds per year, water savings of nearly 300,000 gallons and savings of natural resources such as gas and coal.

“In a desert region such as El Paso, we just can’t overstate the value of water savings. We know the savings of water by this project are significant,” Martinez said.

The systems were funded in 2011 by the Texas State Energy Conservation Office under a $1 million grant to UTEP and its Center for Environmental Resource Management (CERM) with a 20 percent match by UTEP. The systems – 78 kilowatts at the facilities complex and 108 kW at the rec center – were installed by a team of UTEP, CERM, and El Paso Electric personnel and various contractors. The systems were completed in December 2011 and  activated on Jan. 13, 2012.

UTEP officials plan to pursue additional solar PV technology systems for the University and the region and will consider other student-led proposals.

Tanya Sue Maestas, president of UTEP’s Student Government Association, said she expects to advance the SGA’s “green” agenda to include revisiting a 2011 plan where El Paso’s Sun Metro bus system would create express routes to UTEP from the outskirts of the city that would benefit students who live in the far Northeast, East Side, Lower Valley and, in some cases, beyond.

She said some students created an award-winning feasibility study about that project. The study was supported by the University’s “Green Fund,” which pays for student-led projects aimed at campus sustainability. Every semester students pay a $3 fee that goes toward the fund. Today it is valued at more than $100,000. UTEP students voted for this fund in April 2010.

Another idea that students have proposed is a bike-sharing program where students, staff and faculty could rent University bikes for short periods at a reasonable fee at different locations around campus. This idea should be considered as the campus gets closer to being closed off to most vehicular traffic, Maestas said.

Whatever the idea, it is important that the University continues to demonstrate its commitment to affordable, renewable resources such as solar power, said Robert Moss, assistant vice president for UTEP’s Environmental Health and Safety Office.

“Given that we live in the desert, saving water is critical to the future of our region,” said Moss, who has a solar array at his home. “Finding (energy) alternatives should be one of our highest priorities.”

For “Green Fund” information, visit www.sa.utep.edu/greenfund.