Texas A&M CT Announces $600M USD Solar Test Farm, First Univ. to go All Solar
June 28, 2013 7:31 PM
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A hundred manufacturers and technology-makers will field products
Texas A&M Univ.
this week a pretty clever way to save on its power costs -- turn nearby unused acreage into the world's largest solar test farm, dubbed the "Center For Solar Energy".
(Note: There are many bigger
farms, but Texas A&M is billing this as the biggest farm purely for solar prototyping/R&D.)
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp
and A&M-Central Texas President Marc Nigliazzo, the new farm will be far different from commercial farms, fielding hundreds of solar cell designs from dozens of manufacturers. Mr. Sharp said he hopes to have over 100 manufacturers and solar technology players onboard for the project, which he thinks could draw in $400-500B USD in research over a five- to six-year span.
Why does the university claim that much investment will be inbound? It's confident that by making itself the nucleus of all things solar, it will become the favored prooving ground for all manner of technologies that produce power from sunlight from
to more novel designs
like stirling engines
. It says that a product that would take six years to develop elsewhere should be able to be fully tested in only two years, thanks to this concentration of expertise.
Texas A&M-Central Texas President Marc Nigliazz [Image Source: KD Herald]
The farm will be situated on 800 acres in Bell County, and is expected to produce 50 MW. That's enough to provide 100 percent of the university's power (with grid storage smoothing periods of low production), plus enough juice for 20,000 nearby homes. The installation will also provide electricity to the nearby
Fort Hood military installation
largest active-duty armored post
in the U.S. Armed Services. Fort Hood officials were on hand at the project kickoff.
A&M Chancellor Sharp
, "Obama has charged military installations to use 30 to 40 percent of renewable energy on their bases. With this [center], Fort Hood thinks it will be the first post to achieve that."
The project will cost $600M USD, but most of the costs will be absorbed by venture capitalists, eager to profit off the technologies tested and developed at the site. As a result, the university says it does not expect to "expend any capital on the project", and in fact expects to save "$250,000 in its first year of center operation."
Center director Bruce Mercy explains the planned installation. [Image Source: KD Herald]
Students at the university will also gain new options -- "physics and business degrees with an emphasis in renewable energy; and advanced degrees in those same disciplines" will be offered.
So far the primary private-sector collaborator is California-based
PPA Partners, LLC
, a renewable energy consulting firm.
Texas A&M [press release]
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RE: Solar in Texas is common sense
7/1/2013 6:57:15 PM
A handful of homes = 20,000? To be fair, I do think they've overestimated a bit. The average household electricity consumption in Texas is about 1130 kWh/month (or 1550 W). Assuming a capacity factor of 22% (my guess for central Texas), I get 7000 homes total, minus whatever the university would consume.
But regardless, using 800 acres to power 7,000 homes is not a waste of land mass. Do you have any idea how much land it takes to raise livestock or to grow corn for ethanol? If you used that land for corn, for example, assuming 400 gallons per acre as a typical yield, that land could produce about 320,000 gallons of ethanol per year. So those 7000 households have a choice. A year's worth of electricity or 45 gallons of ethanol.
Another way of looking at it is that the total investment is about $750,000 per acre. What fraction of a percent of that is land?
Anyway, it doesn't matter what we think. Solar is already the cheapest source of electricity in a few small markets, and I'd wager that within 20 years (probably sooner), it'll be the cheapest source of electricity in a place like Texas, even if carbon emissions are still free. There is no stopping it.
"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings
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