Zoo Exhibit to Shine Light On Solar Energy Technology

TAMPA, Fla. (April 22, 2009) No day at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is complete without a visit to the elephants and a jaunt on the sky ride, but in coming months zoo visitors also will come away with some new found knowledge of Smart Grid technology and solar power from a cutting-edge project created by the University of South Florida and Tampa Electric.

Solar energy panels are being incorporated into a new shade structure for the elephants and installed near the elephants’ shelters with the aim of producing 15-kilowatts of power to run the zoo’s Treetop Skyfari sky ride. Zoo visitors also will be able to learn more about alternative energy at a new Renewable Energy Learning Center being built with design input from USF architecture students in the central Safari Africa plaza at the zoo.

“It is one thing to have a great idea, it’s another thing to make it work and it’s another to have it viewed by 1.1 million who are having a fun day at the zoo,” said Craig Pugh, acting director of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

For many, the photovoltaic (PV) array will be the first introduction to Smart Grid technology – a new way of creating, distributing and managing energy in the community’s power grid which is just now becoming a part of the American lexicon. But for the researchers at USF’s Power Center for Utility Explorations (PCUE), this project is a culmination of decades of research in alternative energy that is now being implemented into real-world use.

“We have explored the creation of an (energy) grid that is reliable, flexible and sustainable,” said Alexander Domijan, director of the PCUE who has spent more than 20 years working on the elements that make up the new wave of Smart Grid energy programs.  “Our vision is to be a change agent and to bring about a transformation of our urban power systems.”

The $800,000 project – funded by Tampa Electric and with a grant from the Florida High Tech Corridor will enable USF to analyze anticipated technical, economic and environmental impacts of using Smart Grid technologies to connect consumer solar array systems to the community’s electric grid. It will also serve as a Tampa Electric and USF training tool for a new, high-tech work force in power engineering, the only profession dealing comprehensively with energy issues.

The project is the power company’s fifth solar array and symbolizes the company’s commitment to clean energy and customers, said Tampa Electric President Chuck Black.

“Tampa Electric will learn more about tying small, distributed generation into the electric grid; USF through the power center for utility explorations, will work with Tampa Electric and lead the research on tying renewable energy sources into the electric grid; and the community will get an up-close, hands-on look at exactly how solar power really works,” Black said.

Most importantly, project leaders agreed, is that it will highlight the capabilities of solar energy in a setting that speaks to the need for conservation of the planet’s limited resources. Key to the project, researchers said, is the education center that will be for many their first introduction into what makes a Smart Grid the future of America’s energy landscape.

The center itself will be a showpiece, its design being drawn from elements of student-built models from a grueling, 60-hour competition at USF’s School of Architecture and Design. The winning design by the team of Sean Verdecia, Monika Blazenovic, Juan Felipe Sanchez and Joshua Sperduti-Figueroa – was inspired by South African baskets. The students’ ideas for the kiosk include using interactive exhibits that would teach students about clean energy and environmental stewardship.

“To build a sustainable energy future we will need new technology, but we also will need education and community engagement,” said USF President Judy Genshaft. “This project represents the nexus of those key elements.”

During a dedication ceremony on April 20, the PCUE also recognized those who have played a major role in the solar project with annual awards.  Gregory J. Ramon, director of regulatory compliance for Tampa Electric was recognized as 2009 Power Engineer of the Year; Shelly A. Aubuchon, an engineer at Tampa Electric was named 2009 Outstanding Project Manager; Pugh was recognized as the 2009 Visionary in Sustainable Energy and Black was named 2009 Visionary in Power Systems Education Development.

The project is slated to be completed in December. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio heralded it as a significant step forward for the community’s understanding of the potential benefits for clean energy.

“We are in the first decade of a century of change,” the mayor said. “Much of that change will center on renewable energy for our nation and our world.”

The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.