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University to break ground on Louisiana Solar Energy Lab

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette owns and operates one of the largest outdoor solar testing facilities in the southeastern United States. The 4,200-panel solar field encompasses 6 acres, a symbol of UL Lafayette’s status as a national leader in sustainable and traditional energy technologies.

UL Lafayette will further cement that reputation on Thursday, Feb. 3, when it breaks ground on the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab. The 4,500-square-foot building will be located next to the solar field at University Research Park on Eraste Landry Road.

The lab will serve as a hub for solar research, technology development, instruction, training, outreach and workforce development. It will house solar testing equipment, a classroom, interactive learning applications, a seminar room with audio-visual equipment, a conference room, and a visitor’s center with visual displays and informational kiosks.

“The Louisiana Solar Energy Lab will be an essential component for educating the next generation of engineers in solar energy, enabling applied and long-term operational research and testing,” said Dr. Ahmed Khattab, dean of the College of Engineering.

That’s noteworthy, given Louisiana’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, meaning for all carbon dioxide emissions, the same amount must be removed from the atmosphere. At the same time, however, Louisiana is among the nation’s top states for energy usage, greenhouse gas production, and energy production generated by a range of traditional and renewable sources.

“The College of Engineering has adopted a comprehensive approach to energy education that encompasses conventional energy, renewable energy and environmental sustainability. This approach is essential to addressing today’s energy demands and future consumption needs,” Khattab said.

“The Louisiana Solar Energy Lab at UL Lafayette will be an indispensable part of that equation.”

University alum Georges Antoun, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Engineering in 1988, is the driving force behind the solar lab. That’s thanks to a $1 million lead gift, coupled with his role as chair of the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council. Antoun offers guidance and expertise in a range of areas, including strategic planning. He also coordinates student mentoring efforts. 

“There isn’t a place in the country that is looking at traditional generations such as oil and gas and renewable from a strategy perspective,” Antoun said. “Why not the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to champion and lead that?”

His assessment is built on experience. Antoun, who also holds a master’s degree from the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, is chief commercial officer for First Solar. The global company has developed, engineered, constructed and currently operates many of the world’s largest grid-connected photovoltaic power plants.

Antoun’s gift is part of the largest comprehensive fundraising initiative in UL Lafayette history.

Together: The Campaign for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette aims to raise $500 million. The campaign’s priorities include the creation of – and support for – research, learning and teaching spaces where students and faculty work side-by-side in practical settings to address contemporary challenges.

The Louisiana Solar Energy Lab is one such space. Research findings and expertise that emanate from the lab will be widely disseminated – to industry professionals, public officials and others responsible for furthering the development of commercial-scale use of solar technology in the state.

Its far-reaching impact on industry will rest on its capabilities for “testing many applications and many technologies and from multiple vendors for solar,” Antoun explained.

The Louisiana Solar Energy Lab’s development was overseen by Dr. Terrence Chambers, a mechanical engineering professor who directs the University’s Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Center.

“It will be one of the premier facilities in the southeastern U.S., and will further solidify the University’s solar program among the best in the nation,” Chambers said.

Beyond research, testing, training and industry collaboration, the facility will enable the University to expand its solar energy courses and curriculums. The College of Engineering has a minor in renewable energy built around sustainable and solar energy courses.

The University also offers professional development training courses for people who work in sustainable industries. Chambers envisions more programs – including undergraduate and graduate degrees – being added because of the establishment of the solar energy lab.

“Students and faculty members – as well as industry partners – will be able to conduct research in the lab and receive instruction in its classroom, then walk right outside and perform learning exercises directly on the solar equipment. That’s an important and rare capability,” he said.

Find more information on Together: The Campaign for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette here

Caption: UL Lafayette will break ground Thursday on the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab, a 4,500-square-foot hub for research, technology development, instruction, training, outreach and workforce development. The lab will be next to UL Lafayette’s 6-acre solar field at University Research Park on Eraste Landry Road. Submitted rendering