Solar Research Will Help Power Local Economy

Solar Research Will Help Power Local Economy

Texas A&M University-Central Texas has received a $1.5 million grant from the Texas A&M University System and the Chancellor’s Research Initiative (CRI) to bring an aspiring young researcher, Dr. Taylor Harvey, to its Killeen campus to engage in a collaborative solar research initiative.

“This exciting initiative will give our campus community – faculty and students alike – access to the best of the best when it comes to research and teaching. Dr. Taylor Harvey will provide the expertise and the vision to help us become a recognized center for solar technology research,” said Dr. Marc A. Nigliazzo, A&M-Central Texas President. “I’m very thankful to Chancellor Sharp for making this possible through the Chancellor’s Research Initiative.”

The CRI was created by A&M System Chancellor John Sharp in 2012 for the recruitment and hiring of faculty members to dramatically impact the academic and research missions of its universities. It has successfully attracted Nobel laureates and National Academy members to the A&M System. Initially only available to Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University, the program has been expanded to other System institutions, including A&M-Central Texas.

“Like Chancellor Sharp, Dr. Harvey is a true visionary. With the Chancellor’s Research Initiative Funds, Dr. Harvey will be able to change solar from an evolutionary to a revolutionary energy source, impacting future generations as well as our own,” said Dr. Russ Porter, A&M-Central Texas Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

Dr. Harvey is an award-winning founder and chief technology officer at Lucelo Technologies, a Texas-based company that builds ultra-lightweight, flexible solar cells using solar paint. A chemical engineer, he earned his Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Texas at Austin where he developed ink-deposited solar cells. He received his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University in 2006.

In Dr. Harvey’s new position, he will lead a research team and participate in a collaboration with Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, and Central Texas College, focusing on transformational solar technologies and the exploration of new ways to reduce costs, ease installation, and enhance the performance of such technologies.

National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant Award

Texas A&M University, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and A&M-Central Texas were recently awarded a four-year, $400,000 grant from the NSF to join a collaborative photovoltaic research center that includes the University of Texas at Austin, Colorado State University, and other university and industry partners. The NSF Grant will also attract a minimum of $800,000 in private funds to help support the research.

The three A&M System institutions will make up the Texas A&M University “site” within the NSF’s Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics, one of NSF’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC). The site will serve as an international portal for solar research.

A “site” is a single organization or group of organizations that the NSF recognizes for funding a specific group of research endeavors. UT Austin serves as a single-institution site within the center, as does Colorado State University. Colorado School of Mines is also a partner university supporting the center. The research conducted by the center is focused in four areas: photovoltaic materials, devices, and manufacturing; balance of systems and photovoltaic implementation; photovoltaic integration with storage and electric vehicles; and education and societal impact of photovoltaics.

“This is an astonishing collaborative, with five universities, a Texas state agency, over 100 faculty members, and over 300 students at the postdoctoral, doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s levels working on solar energy research,” said Texas A&M-Central Texas Vice President for Research and Economic Development Russell Porter, a co-director of the Texas A&M University site. “And we have over 20 private companies, nongovernmental organizations, and government organizations providing funds to support the research. It is truly an honor to be a part of such an important, collaborative effort.”

The NSF’s I/UCRC program was established in 1973 to encourage collaboration and to develop partnerships among industry, academic and government entities. There are only 80 such centers currently in operation, and the Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics is the only one focused on solar research.

The Impact on Economic Development

A&M-Central Texas is collaborating with the Killeen Economic Development Corporation (KEDC) to attract funding for community-related research, as well as exploring the reduction of utility costs and greenhouse emissions.

“A primary focus of the KEDC and A&M-Central Texas Solar Energy Cost-Benefit Analysis is to determine the potential for developing as many as ten value-added solar implementation sites within the Central Texas area. One of the first sites could be the Greater Killeen Airport. Porter said, “Elevated solar panels over the parking lot would reduce wear and tear on the parking lot, as well as the impact of temperature on the cars in the parking lot – and that is a major impact during the Texas summers!”

Another focus of the KEDC and A&M-Central Texas study is to determine the potential reduction in utility costs for the City of Killeen through the use of “utility level” solar panels. With tight municipal budgets a reduction in municipal utility costs could prove to be a significant outcome from the study.

Porter indicated that a third focus of the study could be leading the country in evaluating the reduction in greenhouse emissions in the Killeen area. “Not only will this be an area with significant low costs of living, we will also see a low production of greenhouse emissions through the use of solar energy – and that will be something we can pass along to future generations.”

Written By: Dr. Russel Porter, Vice President for Research & Economic Development and Chief Research Officer, Texas A&M University-Central Texas
Published in the Greater Killeen Business Quarterly 2016 Annual Report & Economic Outlook