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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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IEE takes lead in renewable energy with solar-powered structure on NMSU campus

New Mexico State University's Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) and College of Engineering are finalizing the design of a solar-powered or photovoltaic (PV) parking structure targeted for construction on the main NMSU campus in Las Cruces in early 2007. The PV structure will be the first non-research, energy production PV array on campus and will be the second-largest such system in New Mexico.

Artist rendering of the solar-powered parking structure targeted for February 2007 on the New Mexico State University Campus. The structure, the second-largest PV facility in the state, will be located near the Student Health Center and is expected to power 10 percent of all its electrical energy while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. (Illustrations courtesy of Studio D Architects, Las Cruces, N.M.)

Artist rendering of the solar-powered parking structure"This type of photovoltaic system operates by converting available solar energy into the type of electric energy we use every day in our homes and businesses," said Corey Asbill, engineer at the Southwest Technology Development Institute (SWTDI) and co-principal investigator of the renewable energy project. Photovoltaic systems produce clean, reliable energy without consuming fossil fuels.

According to a leading solar industry report, the United States consumes 25-30 percent of all fossil fuel energy produced in the world although the U.S. contains just six percent of the world's population.

"This IEE project is aligned with the national initiative of fulfilling solar energy's promise by diversifying overall energy supply as demand continues rising. 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," said Abbas Ghassemi, director of IEE and executive director of WERC.

The New Mexico sun shines an average of 350 days each year in Las Cruces, making solar-powered structures beneficial and practical. A solar-powered system can produce enough electricity during five to seven hours of sunlight to last 24 hours. Excess electric energy can either be stored conventionally (using batteries) or sent to the utility grid during the day to offset later consumption at night.

The NMSU PV parking structure will be located beside the Student Health Center and will have a 10-12 vehicle capacity. The power will be used for the structure's lighting as well as approximately 10 percent of all electrical energy used by the center itself. This will help power radiology equipment, lab-work machines, refrigerators and lighting. In addition, vehicles parked under the shaded structure will remain cooler, thus giving off lower carbon dioxide emissions and requiring less power from the vehicle to run air conditioners shortly after startup.

The solar power generation station will consist of 18 kw (kilowatts) of photovoltaic panels mounted as the canopy to a shaded parking structure. It will generate 600 kw hours of electricity or enough energy to power almost five typical American households for one year.

"The energy produced by this photovoltaic system will be passed directly into the existing electrical system where it will serve a portion of the energy required by the Student Health Center," said Asbill. "This will translate directly into energy cost savings for the university." The system is expected to produce approximately 33 megawatt hours (MW) of electricity annually. This also will eliminate the production of more than 16 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

"The installation of the photovoltaic shaded parking structure will increase the availability and awareness of solar energy here on the NMSU campus," said Gaby Cisneros, engineer at SWTDI. "We hope the success of this project will stimulate NMSU's interest in exploring other sustainable alternatives to fulfill increasing energy needs."

NMSU continues to take a regional and national lead using renewable energy to augment increasing energy demand.

The NMSU parking structure will serve as a pilot project for future development. It is second in size behind the largest New Mexico solar-powered system, the Power Company of New Mexico (PNM) Solar Facility, in Algodones near Bernalillo, for which SWTDI built the data acquisition system and information kiosk.

SWTDI is a renewable energy research and development center and one of the three charter members of IEE, which also includes WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center. For more information contact Abbas Ghassemi at (505) 646-2038, or visit www.werc.net.