UNM West Solar Array
UNM West recently installed a solar array that generates approximately 70 percent of the campus' electricity.
Credit: Rachel Stone

UNM now has a total of six photovoltaic (PV) solar panel systems and one solar thermal storage system after the most recent installation at the UNM West campus. The $465,000 project has been completed and is now generating approximately 70 percent of the building’s electricity, and is expected to save the University more than $24,000 per year in electricity costs. 

“The motto of the City of Rio Rancho is City of Vision," said Diana Gourlay, executive assistant and building manager for the UNM West campus. "As UNM West plans for future growth, we would like to be a model and leader in the community on how the vision for sustainability in our area could look.”

This project also qualifies every UNM facility for an exemption from PNM’s Renewable Energy Program. The savings from this exemption will be about $550,000 in 2015, and will be used to support future renewable energy projects on campus. Some of the future planning sites include the roof of Zimmerman Library, the University Stadium shaded north concourse, Popejoy Hall and the Center for the Arts rooftop, and the roof of the Student Union Building. 

There are many factors to consider when planning for solar on campus, such as the age and structural integrity of a roof, limitations that solar arrays place on the future use of a space, and the visibility of the array. Jeff Zumwalt, director of the Physical Plant Department, said that rooftops are an obvious choice for solar installations, but most rooftop arrays aren’t visible.

“Our preference is to locate these systems where people can see them," Zumwalt said. "Visible solar arrays are like billboards communicating UNM’s commitment to sustainability.” According to Zumwalt, the University is looking to install a covered parking solar array at UNM Athletics in the future.

In 2007, then UNM president David J. Schmidly signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, which states that UNM is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Since then, many efforts have been made to achieve this goal, solar installations being one of many.

Solar energy reduces overall energy costs, but they also have a positive impact on the environment. The UNM West solar array is expected to reduce UNM’s carbon footprint by 120 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to removing just over 25 cars from the streets of Rio Rancho, according to the calculator on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website.

Because of UNM’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, UNM has invested in six solar power systems since 2010. The total capacity of these systems combined is 467 (kilowatt) kW, or the equivalent to the electricity used by 73 average residential homes every year.

Currently, the plan is to add a 75 kW system in each of the next three years. 

“The solar power industry has made great strides in recent years. The output of the systems have gone up while the installation costs have gone down.  We expect these advancements to continue into the future, enabling us to accelerate the proliferation of solar power at UNM,” said Zumwalt.

Three of the systems were partially funded by donations from the Aryeh family.

Visit UNM West Solar Array for a photo slide show.