Advancing the Potential of Solar Power

A hub of innovation under the sunny skies of southern Arizona aims to increase the efficiency of alternative energy sources for the United States.

 

 By Bruce A. Wright and Master Sgt. Adam J. Boubede, M.SAME, USAF

 



Solar Zone

The Solar Zone, a partnership between the University of Arizona and Tucson Electric Power, is one of the largest multi-technology solar testing and demonstration sites in the world. An instrumental component in its success has been a collaboration with nearby Davis-Monthan AFB, which has permitted development in an area previously deemed by the State of Arizona to be protected from encroachment. PHOTO COURTESY TUCSON ELECTRIC POWER


 

The UA Tech Park is one of the nation’s premier research parks—a dynamic, inter­active community where innovators and business leaders meet and where emerg­ing companies work alongside technology giants. Located in one of Arizona’s fast-growing suburban settings on Tucson’s southeast side, the park encompasses 1,345-acres and includes 2-million-ft² for research and development offices and laboratory facilities.

Tech Parks Arizona is part of Tech Launch Arizona, a unit of the University of Arizona dedicated to commercializing inventions emanating from the school’s research. As an integral part of that mission, Tech Parks Arizona generates, attracts and retains technology companies and talent in alignment with the research, mission and goals of the university. The unit directs the UA Tech Park, The Bridges, and the Arizona Center for Innovation.

Tech Parks Arizona is focused on devel­oping innovation hubs that advance lead­ing-edge technology, placing the highest priority on recruiting companies desiring connectivity to the university. One of the key initiatives underway is the Solar Zone at the UA Tech Park.

 

HUB OF INNOVATION

Just three years after its inception, the Solar Zone has grown to be the largest multi-technology solar demonstration site in the United States. The Solar Zone alone represents over $120 million of investments into Pima County, Ariz.

The University of Arizona leveraged its assets to develop an innovative renew­able energy project with industry partner Tucson Electric Power (TEP) to create the ideal environment to test and deploy current and future solar technologies.

The goals of the Solar Zone include:

  • Create a supportive environment where companies can develop, test and demon­strate the next generation of renewable energy products and technologies.
  • Attract private investment capital and key suppliers into the region.
  • Create sustainable, high wage jobs.
  • Develop a workforce with the skills to support the solar technology industry.
  • Reduce the region’s reliance on tradi­tional energy sources.
  • Educate the public on the importance of sustainable energy.

 

GEOGRAPHIC ADVANTAGES

Power generation and distribution are only one component of the Solar Zone. Equally important is research and devel­opment. Solar energy must become more efficient and more economical if it is going to successfully compete with coal and oil-based energy and become a larger part of the nation’s overall energy mix.

The idea of the Solar Zone is to create an integrated, multi-dimensional research center that can foster all elements of solar energy development, including: generation and distribution; research and develop­ment; assembly and manufacturing; product development; testing and evaluation; workforce training; and public education and demonstration.

The Solar Zone is designed to provide the ability to evaluate the performance of various technologies side-by-side. Testing under identical operating conditions allows developers to determine when systems are most efficient and most economical. At the property, University of Arizona researchers are testing everything from solar power forecasting to the environmental impact of solar energy installations.

And, since the sun shines 85 percent of the year in Tucson at optimal radiance, solar technologies can be tested effectively and thoroughly year-round.

  


 

There are 10 companies and organiza­tions testing and demonstrating a variety of solar technologies and systems in Phase One. The site generates 23-MW of power, which is nearly twice the daily electrical consumption of the Tech Park and enough to power the homes of more than 4,600 TEP customers for a year.


  

SOLAR ZONE: PHASE ONE

Representing the first milestone in the program, Tech Parks Arizona recently celebrated the completion of Phase One of the Solar Zone. Occupying 165-acres, Phase One covers the testing and evaluation of power generation at the utility scale.

There are 10 companies and organiza­tions testing and demonstrating a variety of solar technologies and systems in Phase One. The site generates 23-MW of power, which is nearly twice the daily electrical consumption of the Tech Park and enough to power the homes of more than 4,600 TEP customers for a year. Each Solar Zone tenant has a 20-year agreement with TEP, whereby the utility uses all solar power generated by the Solar Zone (which is fed directly into the grid) to expand its renew­able energy resources in Southern Arizona. In total, Solar Zone houses 95,000 solar panels and more than 100 solar concentra­tors generating power.

 

SOLAR ZONE: PHASE TWO

The recently initiated Phase Two of the Solar Zone will include research and devel­opment focused on energy storage, grid optimization and microgrids, distributed solar systems, and integrated and embed­ded solar materials.

The University of Arizona and Tech Parks Arizona are also exploring the deployment of solar energy in mining, agriculture, and defense and security systems. As part of Phase Two, the UA Tech Park is opening up an additional 29-acres for testing and demonstration projects. Parcels will range from 5-acres to 6-acres and can support up to 1-MW of power generation.

Phase Two includes the “Solar Plaza,” an outdoor public information and visi­tor plaza. Currently being designed, the plaza will allow visitors to get up close to functional solar systems and learn about solar technology and its application. Public education about green technologies and the importance of sustainable energy is one of the goals of the Tech Park and the Solar Zone, making the Solar Plaza an integral part of the university’s outreach.

 

ENGAGING DAVIS-MONTHAN AFB

The Solar Zone is part of a larger regional initiative focused on positioning Tucson and Southern Arizona as a major center of solar and renewable energy research and development. A key player in this initiative has been nearby Davis-Monthan AFB.

Davis-Monthan is home to the 355th Fighter Wing, 563rd Rescue Group, 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group and Squadron, and the 12th Air Force. A 16.4-MW solar array situated on the base is the largest solar field on a Defense Department installation in the United States. In 2011, Davis-Monthan entered into an agreement with Sun Edison to design, finance, operate and maintain two solar arrays on 170-acres of base land. The project generates 35 percent of the base’s electricity requirements.

The UA Tech Park has developed a special relationship with the base and its command team. Members of the Tech Park management team are actively involved in community efforts to support the base and its personnel. This includes membership in the DM 50, a leadership group that strives to build community awareness and support for the base, and the Commander’s Tucson Valley Council, a committee composed of representatives of the major governmental jurisdictions in the region. In addition, for the past two years, the park’s chief executive officer has served as Honorary Commander of the 355th Operations Support Squadron.

The UA Tech Park has a unique physical connection to Davis-Monthan as well. The park lies directly under the installation’s flight path. Several years ago, the State of Arizona led an effort to protect Davis- Monthan from encroachment by restricting the types of development that could occur under the flight path paddle.

The restrictions had the potential to severely limit development within the park. In an effort to resolve such issues and to develop a rational set of land development regulations, the Air Force, the City of Tucson, Pima County, and the University of Arizona conducted a Joint Land Use Study (JLUS). Drawing on the recommendations of the JLUS, the City of Tucson and Pima County subsequently adopted ordinances regulating development under the flight paddle.

Through a series of collaborative discus­sions and negotiations with the Air Force and the local jurisdictions, it was agreed that the Tech Park’s master land plan, which predated the adoption of ordinances by the city and county, would be granted grandfa­thered development rights. This included setting aside 447-acres, or 33 percent of the land in the park, for low density develop­ment such as open space and recreational, manufacturing and assembly uses.

The 194-acres land occupied by the Solar Zone falls within this low density development area. In developing the Solar Zone, the university consulted with Davis- Monthan and the Air Force to ensure that any development was consistent with JLUS guidelines, both city and county ordinances, and would not impede flight operations.

 

AT THE LEADING EDGE

The Solar Zone continues to evolve as part of Tech Parks Arizona’s goal to advance the efficiency and potential of alternative energy sources. The ability for so many technologies to be tested and evaluated at a single site is enabling participating companies to access, modify and improve the efficiency and the potential impact of renewable energy.

Its geographically ideal location can posi­tion Tucson to be at the leading edge of innovation and development for the benefit of communities and residents across the country—and the nation, as a special focus of the work at the UA Tech Park is directed to applications in defense and security.

   


 

Bruce A. Wright is Associate Vice President, Tech Parks Arizona, University of Arizona; 520-621-4930, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Master Sgt. Adam J. Boubede, M.SAME, USAF, is Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge, Electrical Systems, 355th Civil Engineer Squadron, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.; 520-228-4266, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..