The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Research Park, near Eraste Landry Road, will utilize six acres of land for the construction of the Photovoltaic Applied Research and Testing Laboratory, also known as the PART Lab.
According to a UL Lafayette press release, it is soon to be “one of the largest solar energy projects in the state.”
UL Lafayette’s Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Center is in charge of the project. With an expected completion date in March, the solar energy panels will provide up to 10 percent of UL Lafayette’s energy consumption while also offering students educational instruction.
To fund the project, UL Lafayette’s partnership with NRG Renew, LLC, provided $5 million. A portion of the funding will also provide operation and maintenance of the PART Lab for 25 years.
Terrence Chambers, Ph.D., is project director and also serves as interim department head of mechanical engineering.
“It’s been my job to design, build, implement and then oversee testing of the solar panels we will be installing at the university,” said Chambers.
Chambers stated they were initially approached by Louisiana Generating, a subsidiary of NRG Renew, to place solar panels on the roofs of campus buildings. A counter proposal was offered, however, and the PART Lab was conceived as both an educational and research facility.
“The fact that our students can get hands-on experience in a lab of this quality will be unique,” Chambers added.
Eight undergraduates and three graduates currently assist with the PART Lab’s development. Chambers said there are also plans to provide an undergraduate level course in the lab once construction is complete.
Cy Kipp, mechanical engineering sophomore, worked on the initial design by creating visual aids, which allowed involved parties to view what the PART Lab would look like fully constructed.
“I was coming in as a freshman,” Kipp said, “and I had no experience with modeling software. It was a learning experience for sure.”
Another student, Dylan Derouen, mechanical engineering sophomore, is learning how to 3D map using drones for the PART lab.
“It’s been a bit difficult getting your feet steady on the ground with knowing what to do, but it’s been fun,” Derouen said. “It prepares us to get out in the working world.”
Kary Ritter III, Ph.D., oversees the already constructed Solar Thermal Applied Research and Testing Lab — the START Lab — which is also operated by UL Lafayette, but is located in Crowley.
In discussing the differences, Ritter stated, “The START Lab is interested in collecting heat, but the PART Lab’s panels are more efficient when they are cooler.
“We’re learning about concentrating solar energy in South Louisiana,” he continued.
Chambers explained how research will be conducted at the PART Lab. He stated three types of solar technologies will be tested to see which one is most efficient at working in Louisiana, where the environment is more humid than at other solar energy facilities.
He said part of his responsibility was to visit the major solar energy research labs across the nation, to match capabilities elsewhere.
“At 1.1 megawatts,” Chambers said, “this will be one out of two or three of the largest in Louisiana, certainly the largest in Lafayette.”
“It’s very exciting to see solar energy piercing its way in Louisiana, which has historically been an oil and gas state,” Ritter said.
Ritter added he believes it will initiate a change in attitude about renewable energies in Lafayette, and it could move policymakers towards incentivising solar energy.
Chambers said he has derived great satisfaction at being able to manage the PART Lab’s construction, and added UL Lafayette could save up to $200,000 per year, allowing the school to focus more on academic programs.
Chambers said the facility will allow UL Lafayette to “break barriers and make sustainable energy more of a reality in Louisiana.”