NMSU researchers help cities develop solar power

New Mexico State University’s Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) in the College of Engineering has joined with industry, universities, and state and local governments around the country in a strategic partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) in The Solar America Initiative. IEE researchers Andrew Rosenthal, John Wiles, and Robert Foster have been working to help the DOE meet its goal of making solar technologies cost-competitive with traditional forms of energy by 2015.

This hybrid photovoltaic-thermal system from Sun-Earth is installed in Hawaii, and provides solar-generated electricity and hot water to homeowners. New Mexico State University engineers evaluated this and other solar technologies as part of a Department of Energy “Tiger Team” making recommendations to the Forest City Military Communities in Honolulu.(Photo courtesy of Will Boudra, Forest City)

Some solar energy experts estimate that as few as 40 minutes of sunlight striking the land surface of the United States could provide more energy than the country’s annual fossil fuel use. If less than 0.1 percent of the earth’s land surface were devoted to solar electric power systems, enough energy to satisfy the global electricity needs of the modern world could be generated.

The Solar America Initiative (SAI) was formed to help cities speed up their adoption of solar technology. Cities selected as Solar America Cities (SAC) in June 2007 received DOE funding plus hands-on support, which NMSU helped provide, in their plans to integrate solar energy into city energy planning, zoning, and facilities. Initial funding provided $159 million to DOE partners; future funding is estimated at $200 million, subject to congressional approval.

The thirteen cities selected are Ann Arbor, Mich.; Austin, Texas; Berkeley, Calif.; Boston; Madison, Wis.; New Orleans, La.; New York City; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; San Diego; San Francisco; and Tucson, Ariz. Each city committed to working toward a comprehensive, citywide approach to make mainstream adoption of solar energy easier. SACs will provide models for other cities to follow.

Andrew Rosenthal is the lead for the Tucson SAC “Tiger Team,” a group helping to streamline city-level regulations and practices (including permitting, inspections, and local codes) that previously made it difficult for residents and local businesses to adopt solar energy.

“Many cities want to build effective solar programs,” Rosenthal said. “The DOE recognized that specialized technical expertise is often needed to get this completed. I have worked with Tucson city staff to write the scope of work that will ramp up solar energy use throughout Pima County and support economic and workforce development. I have a great team to work with that includes engineers from two national laboratories and the Florida Solar Energy Center.”

Tiger Team technical outreach activities emphasize educating key solar stakeholders — decision makers, residents and local businesses — so they can make informed choices about solar energy. NMSU also provides technical assistance to support efforts in Austin and San José.

“The College of Engineering has a long history of supporting the nation’s drive toward energy independence,” said Dr. Abbas Ghassemi, executive director of IEE. “IEE projects have been building relationships with legislators, energy offices, and others to enable far-reaching, progressive solar technology adoption.”

Applications for the next round of SAC cities were due in January 2008. DOE will announce selections soon.

The Institute for Energy and the Environment in the NMSU College of Engineering is comprised of WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development; the Southwest Technology Development Institute, a renewable energy research and development group; and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, a nuclear-waste management and monitoring center.

For more information on IEE environmental technology projects, contact Abbas Ghassemi, executive director, at (575) 646-2038 or visit http://iee.nmsu.edu.

Kris Fury
Feb. 25, 2008


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