UTEP's Solar System Saves Money and Educates Students

This was our first experience with solar PV on campus, but as a result of the success of this project with SunPower, McCormick Architecture/ McArch Construction, Border Solar, and our other partners, we're going to be expanding our renewable energy portfolio on campus.”

– Dr. Ralph Martinez, Director of Energy Initiatives, University of Texas at El Paso

Each year El Paso, Texas receives an average of 293 sunny days—193 of which are cloudless. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) decided to take advantage of this abundant natural resource to lower their electricity bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Led by its Director of Energy Initiatives, Dr. Ralph Martinez, UTEP qualified for and earned a $1M grant to go solar from the Distributed Renewable Energy Technology Program run by the Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO).

Having done their solar due diligence, UTEP already favored SunPower® products, so when a local proposal included SunPower solar panels, the choice was clear. In four short months, the UTEP team along with SunPower and El Paso’s own Border Solar came together and brought online a 185 kW system featuring a rooftop system on the Student Recreation Center and a solar carport for the Facilities Services Building. Now, the university can count on saving $32,000 a year in energy costs while modeling the future of clean energy for its students and community.

UTEP Pursues a Clean Energy Future

The university saw an opportunity to turn its abundant sunlight into utility savings, greenhouse gas reductions, an educational tool for students, and a model for a future powered by clean energy. To accomplish these forward-thinking goals, Dr. Martinez led a UTEP team in pursuit of a Distributed Renewable Energy Technology grant from SECO. Using a systems engineering approach, the UTEP team modeled the proposed PV systems to bolster their grant application. Those added efforts paid off, and SECO awarded the university a $1M grant. Along with money from UTEP's Green Fund, the university could now afford to turn a solar power vision into a reality.

Expert Coordination Meets Deadlines

By selecting local partners such as Border Solar and McCormick Architecture/McArch Construction, UTEP proactively generated commerce for the local economy, and by choosing a SunPower high efficiency solar solution, the university could maximize its renewable energy production for years to come. Coordinating with over a half-dozen contractors, organizations, and internal departments, the project was completed in "record time," according to Dr. Martinez. However, behind the scenes, Border Solar had an unforeseeable hard deadline to get all of the rooftop system’s solar panels installed in two days. Despite the daunting task, Border Solar's expertise combined with the SunPower® T5 Solar Roof Tile's ease of installation allowed the project to be completed before the deadline and on budget. Now, the university will enjoy utility savings of approximately $32,000 each year.

Education and Savings Align with Solar Power

Throughout the process, the UTEP team included their students. One team of students evaluated the different solar offerings and endorsed SunPower's solar panels as UTEP's best option. A graduate student shadowed the entire design–build process from RFP to system installation to grid interconnection. Now, with the 185 kW system fully operational, students will also be able to analyze data collected by the monitoring system. Clearly, the project is an ongoing success on many levels. Consequently, UTEP officials are considering adding 5.5 more megawatts of solar power in the next three to five years. Regardless of their next renewable endeavor, UTEP's state-of-the-art SunPower system proves once again that solar power is a big win not only for the environment, but for education and saving money.

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Project Overview
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Location:    El Paso, TX
Completed:    December 2011
Installation Type:    Parking Canopy and Rooftop
System Size:    185kW
PV Surface Area:    10,536 sq ft
Number of Panel:    600
Products:    SunPower Fixed-Tilt Parking Canopy and SunPower T5 Solar Roof Tile

Subhead: 
Benefits
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  • Projected to save the university approximately $32,000 a year
  • Projected to annually produce 308,206 kilowatt-hour, which is the energy equivalent of powering 41 average residential homes
  • Provides students an educational tool for solar power analysis
  • Models solar energy generation for faculty, students, staff, and the surrounding communities