Plans are continuing to develop for a solar energy facility west of Laramie that will serve as a research hub for students in the University of Wyoming College of Engineering.
9H Energy announced last week that it is committing $10 million in energy generation and in-kind support to UW through the facility during its lifetime.
“The research foundation is all about trying to drive innovation,” said Brendan Riley, president of 9H Energy. “We want to innovate together.”
In October, the Albany County Board of Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for the facility, located on the 12,000-acre 9H Ranch just outside Laramie on West Curtis Street. The ranch is owned by 9H Energy co-founder and owner Gene Humphrey, a 1973 UW graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering.
UW President Ed Seidel said the partnership would give students opportunities for experiential learning while conducting interdisciplinary research in a field that impacts Wyoming.
“This will help put us at the forefront of that area of research,” he said.
The facility also fits with Gov. Mark Gordon’s new Wyoming Innovation Network initiative, which he announced in January and which aims to modernize Wyoming’s higher-education network and diversify the state’s economy.
The initiative seeks to develop collaborations with UW, community colleges and industry partners. Those collaborations, in turn, could attract industry by providing plentiful energy and a skilled workforce.
“Training in technology and engineering are areas that we think are important for us to work on for the future of the economy in the state,” Seidel said.
Gordon, who came to Laramie Thursday afternoon for the announcement, said coordinated efforts are needed to solve the challenge to supply more and more energy in increasingly diverse ways.
“They don’t yield themselves to simple platitudes as solutions,” Gordon said.
9H Energy sponsored a senior design competition last semester with $5,000 in prize money and another $15,000 for student teams to develop their projects at the research facility.
The facility is currently permitted for .5 megawatts, with long-term plans to grow to three megawatts on 30 acres.
First Solar, an Arizona-based manufacturer of solar panels, has committed more than 2,000 solar panels to the project, worth more than $300,000. Creative Energies Solar, which has an office in Wyoming, is donating labor to install the panels.
Adam Smith, director of technology sales origination at First Solar, said university research is vital in helping the company maintain its commitment to continue manufacturing in the United States.
“It’s exciting to see universities take these initiatives seriously,” he said. “We realized as a company that we must invest in the next generation of university students.”
Go to 9henergy.com for more information.