Texas A&M University is planning to build what it claims will be the world’s largest solar research centre.

The new ‘Center for Solar aims to evaluate, develop and test renewable energy technologies, focusing on photovoltaic solar technologies.

The new centre will be home to a 50MW solar field and is expected to cost nearly US$600 million, funded by venture capitalists; the centre will be at Texas A&M-Central Texas campus, in Killeen, just north of Austin, covering nearly 800 acres in Bell County.

The project is being developed by the university in collaboration with national consultants and financers of renewable energy projects, PPA Partners - who already have projects in California, Arizona and New Jersey.

The centre hopes to provide 100% of Texas A&M University’s energy as well as that of 20,000 homes. The university has further hopes to sell energy back to utility firm Oncor, which already supplies incentives to PV solar installers, and also to supply Fort Hood military post with solar energy, in line with US president Barack Obama’s renewable energy goals.

The ambitious research centre aims to become an incubator for testing solar technology, gaining investments and encouraging more solar products into the commerical market, using funding initiatives and university courses aiding solar advancement. The centre wants to be the leading institution for PV technology research in the world, aspiring to host the “largest assortment” of photovoltaic technologies in the world and providing thousands of renewable energy jobs in Texas.

“The Center for Solar Energy is truly a market-changing partnership and will make A&M-Central Texas the premier destination for the study and advancement of solar energy,” said John Sharp, chancellor of Texas A&M University System.

Marc Nigliazzo, president of Texas A&M University, said the Center “will not only accelerate research and curriculum development at A&M-Central Texas, it will extend collaborative opportunities across an educational spectrum”.

PPA Partners recently undertook a smaller PV ground mounted installation project at Arizona Western College where Nigliazzo was formerly president.   

Two years ago Sundance Renewable Solutions installed Texas A&M University's first solar energy system: a 30KW, $200,000 project sponsored mostly by a grant from the US Department of Energy, and the Texas State Energy Conservation Office.

The current system is used as an education and solar testing tool and can supply power for emergency exits and ventilation during blackouts. It was also designed to withstand hurricane strength winds.

Texas A&M University also entered the solar powered home: ‘groHome’ into Solar Decathlon 2007 – an international competition run by the US energy department to build solar powered homes. Texas A&M came 18th out of 20 universities.