NMSU runs on clean energy

Patrick Chavez, director of utilities and plant operations, shows the ice storage tanks at the NMSU’s ice water plant, where ice is made at night and then melted during the day to cool campus buildings . (Courtesy of NMSU)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

BY KEVIN ROBINSON-AVILA
Newspaper editor

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University will soon get half of its total electricity from a new 3-megawatt solar panel built by El Paso Electric Co. on the NMSU campus in Las Cruces.

It is expected to come online in November with 10,000 solar panels and a 1MW battery system that can provide up to four hours of back-up power when the sun goes down.

The network is in full view on a previously vacant 29-acre parcel at NMSU’s Arrowhead Park, which the university is developing into an industrial hub on the south side of campus. It is nestled between Highways 10 and 25 – a strategic location deliberately chosen to provide passing motorists with unobstructed views of the facility, said Wayne Savage, executive director of Arrowhead.

“It’s a highly visible site designed to grab attention,” Savage told The Journal. “NMSU and EPE want to be known and seen as the leaders in network transformation. “

The solar installation is the latest development in a new broad academic vision to transform the NMSU campus into a model of low-carbon, energy-efficient technologies to power university facilities while simultaneously providing opportunities for hands-on learning for students, faculty and the community. professionals and policy makers. The university wants to convert its campus into a “living laboratory” for energy research and development to help New Mexico and other states switch from fossil fuels to non-carbon resources, the NMSU Chancellor said, Dan Arvizu.

“Other universities, like Stanford, are doing similar things, but our concept of using the university system as a ‘living laboratory’ is unique to our region,” said Arvizu. “We can make important contributions to help the state move from ambitious goals to implementing strategy to achieve its goals. “

As the former director of the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, Arvizu is leading the charge of transforming the NMSU into a major player in the energy transition, not only in New Mexico, but at the national level. In September, the White House appointed him to the National Council of Science and Technology Advisors, which makes recommendations to the president on science, technology and innovation policy.

Arvizu also heads a new “energy cabinet” at NMSU that includes university deans and representatives from NREL and Sandia National Laboratories that meet monthly to help guide energy strategies in the public and private sectors.

NMSU is now leading two state-level initiatives. One, funded by the US Economic Development Administration, aims to help New Mexico communities take advantage of the state’s emerging green energy economy to promote business development and job creation. . The other, funded by the DOE, is working to create a ‘clean energy cluster’ of start-ups through the NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, which manages all entrepreneurship and technology transfer programs. of the University.

The university is now seeking federal funding for more initiatives. One would transform NMSU’s statewide system of agricultural science centers into hands-on demonstration sites of methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture industry.

Another would convert a now defunct solar demonstration site, which the DOE operated at NMSU in the 1980s, into a modern clean energy technology lab for research, technology commercialization, and workforce development. work, said Patricia Sullivan, Associate Dean of Engineering and Director of the Chancellor’s Strategic Direction. Office of initiatives.

“It’s an open-air test facility with structures already in place and wired,” Sullivan told the Journal. “We have to upgrade it and convert it for modern research. “

This facility could become a tiny micro-grid to study emerging technologies and controls, said Olga Lavrova, associate professor of electrical engineering.

Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, Olga Lavrova, discusses the NMSU Power Systems Lab’s server system, which captures real-time data from local and regional networks and stores it for processing and analysis. (Courtesy of NMSU)

Under Lavrova, the engineering school is already doing extensive research on microgrids, smart energy technology, solar generation, battery storage and other things in a dedicated power systems lab. which receives real-time data from El Paso Electric and regional grids, and from campus power systems managed by NMSU’s utilities and plant operations. The laboratory monitors and stores data on its own servers for processing and analysis.

There’s even a simulated micro-grid in the lab that emulates the power supply and consumption of a fictitious fictitious neighborhood, with a supercomputer to process and analyze the data.

The university’s real energy gem, however, is its utilities and factory operations, which directly provide 52% of NMSU’s electricity and all heating and cooling on campus. Over the past decade, campus managers have developed a unique network of real-time monitoring and control to maximize energy efficiency, dramatically reducing consumption and costs while dramatically reducing carbon emissions. The whole system has become a living laboratory for academic research and teaching, said Patrick Chavez, director of utilities and plant operations.

Now, the newly built solar panel at Arrowhead Park will add a whole new dimension to NMSU’s power supply, providing opportunities for research and learning when it goes live next month.

EPE will own, manage and maintain the system under a special rate contract with NMSU approved by state regulators. The $ 8 million facility will generate all of the campus electricity not supplied by utilities and factory operations, while allowing NMSU students and faculty to study such things as climate mitigation. dust and the transparent operational offset of the output between the solar panels and the back-up battery system.

It’s also educational for EPE, said utility engineer Ruben Quiroga.

“This is our first large-scale company-owned solar system with battery storage,” Quiroga said. “It’s a learning experience for both parties.

About Leslie Schwartz

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