Solar panels lead UTPA into a brighter future in sustainability efforts
Contact: Amanda Perez, Intern 381-2741
Posted: 12/04/2009
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Imagine being able to generate your own electricity and produce energy. Dr. Jaime Ramos, an engineering professor from The University of Texas-Pan American, is teaching his electrical engineering students to do just that with the addition of solar panels on the roof of the engineering building at UTPA.

Pictured are the solar panels installed recently on top of the Engineering Building at UTPA.

"The purpose of these solar panels is not so much for energy, but for educational purposes for the students," Ramos said. "I feel that the electrical engineering students will be able to attack problems and get hands-on experience in this new field of engineering."

Ramos is working in collaboration with the engineering department, physical plant and environmental control in leading a sustainability initiative at UTPA. Their goal is to formulate a 10 year campus plan that will strategically look at projects, such as the solar panels, that will help the University become more energy efficient.

According to Marianella Franklin, manager of campus sustainability, this is a turning point for UTPA in regards to sustainability and energy efficiency efforts. UTPA is joining other leading universities, such as North Carolina State University, already committed to teaching and implementing energy efficiency.

"The benefit of the solar panels is focused on stimulating thinking, programming, research and awareness," she said. "It basically demonstrates the University's dedication to teach energy issues and solutions."

The plans to install solar panels began two years ago when UTPA began searching for alternate energy sources. After several meetings and support of the research from the University, Ramos went forth with this $60,000 project. Ramos, along with many others, worked together to complete it. The UTPA Army ROTC cadets also assisted.

"The ROTC cadets were well informed on the project and knew its purpose," said John Patton, assistant director to facilities, maintenance and operations. "They were very positive about the experience."

Twenty cadets carried bricks, totaling approximately 6,500 pounds, up the staircase to the roof of the engineering building and completed it in 38 minutes.

David Ortega, assistant director of the cooling plant, said solar panels and other energy efficient equipment is a growing industry in the Rio Grande Valley, but believes with awareness it will grow and get better with time. The first step is beginning with the students at UTPA.

Franklin agrees that awareness and instruction will allow them to move further along and begin the search for grant opportunities for larger projects.

"All of this is baby steps into the future," she said. "But we want our students to understand these systems, because they are the future innovators who will take the next step for better and affordable technology in the area of renewable energy."