The future, much like the Tucson summer sun, is bright for the UA Tech Park. Tucson Electric Power, in collaboration with E.ON Climate and Renewables North America and Landis +Gyr, has a new solar energy storage solution located at the park — one that will not only power homes but also boost the park’s reputation as a solar hot spot.
The latest addition to the UA Tech Park’s Solar Zone, the Iron Horse Energy Storage and Solar Project, contains a new solar panel array and battery storage system that will serve both practical and investigatory purposes.
TEP spokesman Joe Barrios said the new solar-panel array, constructed by E.ON, will be capable of generating up to 2 megawatts of energy. The combined total generated by the various solar-panel arrays in the Solar Zone is about 25 megawatts.
Perhaps more crucial, though, is the storage system and its capability. Barrios said it can store 10 megawatts of energy.
“Renewable energy storage offers great promise,” he said. “[When] integrating renewables into the grid, the challenge presented is production variability.”
In other words, the quality of solar energy fluctuates depending on the time of day, the season and the weather.
The UA Tech Park is a massive 225-acre multi-purpose facility on South Rita Road and is home to multiple solar-panel arrays owned by different companies. Its mission, according to its website, is to “contribute to the discovery and development of new technologies.”
TEP, which owns or has an agreement with seven of the 10 sites featuring solar arrays in the park’s Solar Zone, then sells that energy to customers.
In a press release, Landis + Gyr, the maker of the storage system, claims the 10-megawatt containerized lithium-ion energy system will help TEP strengthen and diversify its grid.
“The solution balances TEP’s need for a system that delivers superior cycle life, high power density and rapid charge capabilities,” the company stated.
Wright said the UA Tech Park has one unique quality that sets it apart from most competitors.
“Unlike most tech parks around the country, this facility is a part of Tucson’s grid system,” he said. “Therefore, it allows for application of new technologies on a grid. Then they can test to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Bruce Wright, associate vice president for Tech Park Arizona, echoed Barrios’ sentiments. He added that the energy storage system could have other benefits as well.
“This could have implications in other industries, from mining to agriculture and on,” he said.
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 1, Mark Frigo, vice president of energy storage at E.ON, said he was excited about opening the facility, the company’s first in North America.
“Energy storage has the potential to truly revolutionize the 21st-century grid,” he said.
Frigo said Iron Horse would be key in TEP solidifying its commitment to renewable forms of energy.
“Energy storage systems like Iron Horse allow utilities such as TEP to use renewable resources more effectively and efficiently within their electric grid,” he said.
Barrios agreed. He also said E.ON’s system and those like it are integral to utility companies like TEP moving away from conventional fuels like coal and natural gas.
“The benefit of coal and gas is their reliability; these systems help make renewables that much more reliable,” he said.
Wright also sees a host of benefits as far as students are concerned.
“There is more potential for internships with TEP and E.ON,” he said. “It attracts other solar and renewable companies to Tucson, which in turn means more high-paying professional jobs for graduating students.”
The University is committed to renewable energy for the future, according to Wright. He noted the Solar Zone produces two times the energy it uses.
“There has been an effort, institutionally," he said, "to commit to renewables and being more responsible.”
Follow Eddie Celaya on Twitter.