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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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IEE engineers install largest solar array data system in New Mexico

New Mexico State University's Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) recently completed installation of a data acquisition system and information kiosk at PNM's new Sunflower solar panel array at Algodones, N.M.

PNM's Sunflower solar array between Santa Fe and Albuquerque now has a data acquisition system and information kiosk, installed by NMSU engineers. (Photo by Andrew Rosenthal, SWTDI)

The 25-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) generating facility is located near Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The location was chosen to increase public awareness that a clean, alternative, renewable energy resource is being used by the state's largest utility, and the PV array was designed to resemble environmentally friendly sunflowers.

"The data acquisition system installed at the facility is a relatively simple one that monitors the power output of each of the six power inverters," said Corey Asbill, engineer at the Southwest Technology Development Institute (SWTDI), a unit of the IEE in the NMSU College of Engineering.

An inverter converts DC energy into AC energy to inject onto the electric grid, a large system of interconnected power plants and transmission infrastructure. PNM is part of the Western grid, which connects 14 states, two Canadian provinces, and portions of one Mexican state.

"The data provide a weekly average output based on weather conditions and the amount of sunlight available," Asbill said. "The data can also be used to troubleshoot problems that may occur with the system. The information kiosk was installed to augment public tours of the facility."

The kiosk shows real-time individual and total output of each "sunflower" panel, among other elements shown in a pleasing visual manner.

"This project is in keeping with the national initiative of fulfilling solar energy's promise by diversifying the overall energy supply as demand increases," said IEE Director Abbas Ghassemi. "As we reduce our dependence on outside fossil fuels, other benefits include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality, which ultimately improves our quality of life."

Dean of Engineering Steven Castillo said IEE is helping to move New Mexico toward energy independence. "This installation is another example of the excellent work IEE is doing in renewables," he said.

The sun shines an average of 350 days per year in New Mexico, making solar energy production a viable option. At peak performance, the PNM facility is capable of generating 25 kilowatts of electricity. PNM estimates the facility will generate about 41,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to fully power about six average PNM customers. The facility will produce the most electricity when it is most needed - during hot summer afternoons when customers are running air conditioners to cool their homes and businesses.

The facility has 22 separate "solar sunflower" arrays, a design named for its flower-like appearance. There are four photovoltaic panels per array and each array represents about 1.15 kilowatts of potential generating capacity. The arrays are each 10 feet across.

The photovoltaic panels for the facility were manufactured in the United States. PNM contracted with a New Mexico-based company to install the arrays with the assistance of students from a renewable energy program at San Juan College in Farmington.

PNM contracted with SWTDI to install the data acquisition system and information kiosk. SWTDI is a renewable energy research and technology development center, and one of the three charter members of the NMSU Institute for Energy and the Environment. IEE also includes WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center.

For more information contact Ghassemi at (505) 646-2038, or visit iee.nmsu.edu or www.werc.net.