Some strange-looking saucers behind the UNLV campus have been grabbing the
sun's rays -- along with a lot of attention from a national energy lab.
According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, a 100-mile-wide spot in the
Southern Nevada desert has the potential to generate enough solar energy to
play a big role in providing for the nation's energy needs.
The problem is finding a cost-effective way to harness the sun's power.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is working on technology that would help
achieve that goal -- and if all the stars align, the school could become a
powerhouse in the field of renewable energy research.
"UNLV is quickly becoming one of the leading solar researchers in the country,
and then you have this great solar resource there in Southern Nevada," said
Mary Jane Hale, a senior engineer for the National Renewable Energy Lab in
Colorado. "If politicians make the right decisions and make sure that there is
enough funding, dramatic things could happen, not only within the state of
Nevada but in the nation."
The solar panels being tested by UNLV, which border East Flamingo Road, are
called parabolic dishes. The two dishes track the sun, and inside the mirrored
surface is a tube filled with hydrogen gas that heats up and then drives pistons of
an engine. The unit, which has been in operation for about a year, produces 25
kilowatts of power, or enough power for 250 100-watt light bulbs per second.
UNLV researchers are trying to find an affordable way to make energy using the
sun's power. The parabolic dish is the researchers' attempt to make that happen.
If it works, the technology could be used on the 100-mile-wide bright spot in the
Nevada desert that the national lab sees as the future of solar power.
Lab officials see promise in UNLV's project and in the future of the solar project,
which would be put on Bureau of Land Management land.
"It is the technology that is the most viable, it is the cheapest compared to
(traditional solar panels) and we know how to do it," Hale said. "Putting solar
collectors on that land is a very real possibility."
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., helped secure $1 million in federal funds in 2002 for
UNLV's research on solar-power generation. The University of Nevada, Reno also
received $1 million of research money for geothermal energy.
But solving the nation's energy needs is no simple feat. First there is the
not-so-small problem of the country's reliance on fossil fuels, and then there is
the high cost of the technology.
Other solar technologies are being tested, including a Duke Energy project in
Boulder City that uses oil, not hydrogen, to power the engine.
"What we have is a (presidential) administration right now that's not really high on
this kind of stuff," said Bob Boehm, director of UNLV's Center for Energy
Research. "They are high on oil."
While the dishes soak up 30 percent of the sun's rays that hit them -- three times
as much as conventional solar panels -- it would cost the average user triple the
price of traditional power sources, according to NREL officials. With continued
research and use of the technology, those costs are expected to go down,
Another benefit of UNLV's renewable energy program is that it is training experts
in a field where there aren't many experts to go around, Boehm said.
The hope is that UNLV's projects will help make the state a mecca not only for the
collection of energy but also the manufacturing of energy collectors, Boehm said.
"It's not unreasonable that this could lead to some sort of industry here," Boehm
said. "We are in a prime location for using the sun and manufacturing these types
<story by Jennifer Knight LAS VEGAS SUN>
For more information about touring the site call (702) 895-1125 or email
The UNLV Solar Site is located at the Taylor Hall building on the north side of
campus, at 869 E. Flamingo Road, just west of Maryland Parkway. On the campus
map, Taylor Hall is building #53. The site is right next to the Rebel Recycling
It is on the south side of Flamingo Road, between Swenson Street & Cambridge
UNLV Solar Site
869 E. Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119
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