Construction on the first large solar panel installation on the main UT campus began Friday.
Crews began putting up a support system for the installation on top of Manor Garage on Robert Dedman Drive. Webber Energy Group, a UT mechanical engineering research team, will study the output of three different types of solar panels from three different manufacturers under the same conditions.
The metal supports on the roof of Manor Garage should be completed by the end of this week, said Lawrence Littleton, a contractor for Webber Energy Group. UT sustainability director Jim Walker said the solar panels should be fully installed before the first football game this season.
Walker said the project will have a small impact on the University’s power production but could lead UT researchers to future innovation.
“The fuel for solar is free, so over generations, this shift from fossil fuels to solar and wind is inevitable,” Walker said. “We need continued research and development so that it becomes more efficient and more cost-effective to do it.”
Research on the new solar panels will show how they respond to different temperatures, partial dirtiness and aging, said Fred Beach, a post-doctoral fellow at UT’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and member of the Webber Group.
“They differ in their efficiencies,” Beach said. “The less efficient ones are less costly, but to generate the same amount of electricity, you need to buy more of them.”
Beach said the panels will produce some of the energy necessary to power the Manor Garage and will benefit parking customers.
“Several customers, when they buy parking spaces, expect a shaded parking space,” he said. “This will shade 10 to 12 parking spaces on the roof.”
Manor Garage is located between Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and the Mike A. Myers Track and Soccer Stadium. Beach said visibility was a condition of the grant that helped fund the project.
“They wanted us to be visible, and that is one of the most visible spots on campus, especially on game days,” Beach said. “It can also be seen from the interstate.”
The project is being funded by a $195,000 grant from federal funds distributed by the State Energy Conservation Office and about $125,000 from UT’s Parking and Transportation Services, said Texas Comptroller’s Office spokesman R.J. DeSilva.
The State Energy Conservation Office chose seven projects from 25 applicants to receive a total of about $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy last October. DeSilva said the agency chose projects that could be built immediately and could help educate the public. In addition to the academic benefits, UT will provide information about the solar panels with a kiosk.
DeSilva said the grants will help local public entities save money.
“By helping them become more energy-efficient, it helps them reduce their electric bill,” DeSilva said. “They will then be able to use that money for other perks.”
Printed on 07/25/2011 as: Solar panels to aid UT energy researce.
Updated on 07/25/2011 at 1:05 p.m.: byline correction