Solar Energy Initiative

UNLV is committed to helping the community and state capitalize on the abundant solar resources of Southern Nevada through both research and education programs. The university is poised to lead an initiative that will help put Southern Nevada on the map as a resource for solar energy development and innovation with its proposed Solar Solutions Center.

The new Solar Solutions Center will establish UNLV as a national center of excellence (a one-stop-shop) for solar energy deployment and will prepare future leaders who will support a renewable energy economy. The center is designed to employ research, policy analysis, and business community outreach to create solar energy industry jobs, improve technology, develop pro-solar policies, and coordinate financial and intellectual resources.

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Center Structure, Goals, and Outputs

The Solar Solutions Center will have three clusters: Research and Development, Policy and Analysis, and Business Services. The Research and Development cluster will focus on research issues that are relevant to the deployment of solar energy. The Policy and Analysis cluster will focus on legal, regulatory, economic, financial, and organization issues that must be addressed to accelerate the deployment of solar projects. The Business Services cluster will reach out to the business and governmental sectors to enhance understanding of energy-related issues. In addition, this cluster will provide key support services for all parts of the center. The specific goals of the center will be to:

  • Facilitate a rapid expansion of an economic innovation cluster for solar energy that will lead to new jobs in the region.
  • Advance sustainable solar deployment in the region and beyond.
  • Expand research and development capacity by adding faculty expertise in engineering, science, business, law, and policy with 11 new hires.
  • Create a new resource for analysis of national and regional energy policy.
  • Grow a workforce and future leaders who support a clean energy economy through the creation of new education programs.

UNLV's Research and Education

UNLV already brings a wealth of research and education programs to the solar energy field. Faculty, staff, and students conduct research in a wide range of areas, including:

  • Smart grid technologies
  • Thin-film photovoltaics, including nanotechnology, and traditional PVs
  • Solar energy concentrating technologies
  • Energy storage
  • Optics
  • Thermal modeling
  • Solar-powered production of hydrogen fuel
  • Materials science
  • Economic impact of renewable energies
  • Solar stills and passive solar heating

Additionally, UNLV offers an undergraduate minor program in solar and renewable energy through an industry-education partnership with NV Energy, which has provided a $500,000 donation to help establish this program. The goal of the program is to position Nevada and UNLV as leaders in the field of alternative energy through the support of excellent educational programs that advance understanding of the field, build the state's workforce, and stimulate the state and local economy. The minor degree program is available to all undergraduate students at UNLV through two tracks – one in engineering and science, and another in policy. In addition, various co-curricular activities are provided to further prepare students for careers in the solar and renewable energy fields.

Building on Successful Partnerships

The university hopes to continue building its partnerships with both the public and private sectors. Past projects have included the following:

  • The UNLV Center for Energy Research, in partnership with Pulte Homes and NV Energy, recently unveiled the LEED Platinum-certified development of a new community of homes (Villa Trieste) in Northwest Las Vegas. These homes combine energy-efficient features and advanced smart-grid metering technology to dramatically reduce energy usage.
  • UNLV researchers were involved in the design phase of the concentrated solar trough project with private partner Acciona on the advanced development of a solar power plant in the Eldorado Valley.
  • UNLV researchers have designed, installed, and help operate a hydrogen generation and fueling system located at the Las Vegas Valley Water District. They have also converted vehicles to use the generated hydrogen as fuel.
  • UNLV researchers are partnering with SAIC on the study of a new concept for solar power generation and building of an SAIC dish PV system, including analysis, testing, and redesign.