UNM Taos Goes 100% Solar

July 13, 2009

UNM-Taos a pioneer in solar energy movement

Last updated: 09/15/09 9:16am

The scorching heat of New Mexico summers can now be put to good use - powering the UNM-Taos campus.

UNM-Taos is the first school in the United States to adopt this renewable energy source and power 100 percent of its campus through solar energy.

In 2007, Kit Carson Electric Co. got a $5 million grant to explore energy alternatives. The company then approached the UNM-Taos campus with the idea to create a solar array to provide energy for the entire campus.

The 3.5 acre solar array consists of approximately 3,500 solar panels made in the United States by American Capital Energy and installed by Paradise Power Company in Taos. The panels are on a tracking system, so they follow the sun's location in the sky throughout the day, ensuring they receive 20 percent more energy than stationary panels.

According to Rudy Baca, director of the physical plant at UNM-Taos, the array can produce 500 kilowatts of energy, more than enough to power the entire 86,000 square foot campus.

"Any excess energy is stored in the grid and sold back to the community at a lower cost," he said.

As a result of Taos' transition to solar power, President David Schmidly declared July 1 "Energy Independence Day" in his Monday-morning message.

In August 2007, UNM created a Sustainability Studies program for students, and in March 2008, President Schmidly declared sustainability a core value, as it is important to ensure that "as we meet the needs of the present, we are not compromising the well being of future generations."

Jeff Zumwalt, UNM's associate director of utilities, said the University has a long list of sustainability projects, including solar panels on the main campus mechanical engineering building.

Zumwalt said UNM also compensates for its energy consumption by purchasing emission credits.

"Since June 2007, UNM has purchased emission credits to offset the carbon emissions from the Student Union Building, working toward carbon neutrality," he said.

In addition to boasting the largest solar array in the state of New Mexico, the UNM-Taos campus has adopted many other sustainability measures. Starting 16 years ago, the campus was outfitted with several electric thermal storage units designed to store energy during the night.

Baca said he also worked with Mazria Inc. Architecture to design the Multipurpose Instruction Building at UNM-Taos, a classroom building that incorporates a number of sustainable design techniques, including natural lighting and other energy management systems. Baca said measures like these had a great impact on Taos' overall energy consumption.

"Mazria (Inc. Architecture) guaranteed the UNM Taos campus 50 percent reduced energy use as opposed to a building that didn't incorporate these energy-saving designs," he said.

Published July 13, 2009 in News