UArizona Unveils Interactive Display to Highlight Clean Energy Partnership



By Mikayla Mace Kelley, University Communications

September 9, 2022

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins speaks at the unveiling of the exhibit, on the south side of the Student Union Memorial Center, Friday, September 9.
Chris Richards/University of Arizona

Blue and red golf balls race along winding steel tracks encased in glass. Starting with a spinning wind turbine and solar panels rendered in miniature, they pass through tiny replicas of University of Arizona campus landmarks such as Old Main, Arizona Stadium, and Main Gate Square.

miniature Old Main inside ball machine

The display balls pass through campus landmarks such as the Old Main.
Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The balls represent clean energy generated by Tucson Electric Power’s Wilmot Energy Center solar-plus storage system south of Tucson and its Oso Grande wind farm in southeastern New Mexico, both of which power the main campus of UArizona.

The entire screen measures over 7 feet high, nearly 12 feet long and 4 feet wide. Other landmarks in its miniaturized landscape include the university’s Stevie Eller Dance Theater and the iconic palm and saguaro trees that dot the campus. The interactive display allows viewers to turn a knob to release balls that collect in a model of the Wilmot Energy’ Center battery storage facility – the real-life version of which stores solar energy until the sun goes down or when the demand for energy increases.

The rollerball machine, unveiled today just south of the Student Union Memorial Center south entrance, was designed and built by a local company creative machines. Every six months the machine will be moved to a different location along the university group visit route that prospective students and their parents are encouraged to take on their first visit to campus.

The machine serves as a visual representation of the Large Scale Renewable Energy agreement between the university and TEP, which began in July 2021. The agreement will reduce UArizona’s carbon footprint by one-third and save the university millions of dollars over the 20-year term of the agreement.

“Universities and other institutions of higher education play an important role as leaders in sustainability projects,” said the president of the University of Arizona. Robert C. Robbins. “First, because sustainability is essential to the education each of our students receives, as well as to the future of our society. And second, because of our efforts to leverage our research strength in the environments buildings and the future Earth. This interactive exhibit is a powerful visualization of the University of Arizona’s commitment to sustainability and a proud reminder of our agreement with Tucson Electric Power to supply the campus with purchased electricity 100 % emission free.” Sustainability is a key program initiative at the university strategic plan.

Robert C. Robbins and Susan Gray

Robbins, Susan Gray, CEO of Tucson Electric Power, and Joe O’Connell (left), Founder, President and Creative Director of Creative Machines, unveil the exhibit Friday, talking about the importance of the work between the university and TEP .
Chris Richards/University of Arizona

Each part of the ball machine was made by hand. The steel track has been meticulously shaped and welded together, each miniature model has been sculpted to scale and painted by hand, and LED lights have been tucked into the miniatures to illuminate them from within.

“This project has been an exciting and unique opportunity to work with our neighbors TEP and the University of Arizona,” said Creative Machines Founder, President and Creative Director Joe O’Connell. “Everyone loves looking at a cute diorama that makes the world understandable, but what makes the little world we’ve brought to life so exciting is that it accurately represents southern Arizona, where we all live. It’s fun and lively, but it’s rooted in science. The movement of the balls directly represents the movement of energy in the system. More and more, we find our art aligned with science and the big questions facing people. humanity is facing, and this delightful sculpture is a perfect example of that.”

Creative Machines also designs and builds interactive exhibits for children’s museums and science centers around the world. There’s a small pinball machine at the Children’s Museum Tucson, but the one in Arizona is the city’s first large-scale facility. It also includes three plaques detailing the university’s partnership with TEP.

A green and clean campus

Fiscal 2022 marked the first full year since the start of the Large Scale Renewable Energy OK. The agreement provides clean, renewable energy that eliminates all Scope 2 emissions – those that result from the generation of electricity, heat or steam purchased from a utility.

It has mitigated approximately 65,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the past fiscal year. That’s equivalent to taking nearly 14,000 gas-powered vehicles off the road for a year, said Trevor Ledbetteruniversity director Office of Sustainability and an instrumental part of the team that coordinated the deal with TEP.

sculptures of athletes inside the machine

Each part of the ball machine was made by hand. The steel track has been meticulously shaped and welded together, each miniature model has been sculpted to scale and painted by hand, and LED lights have been tucked into the miniatures to illuminate them from within.
Chris Richards/University of Arizona

“Large institutions like the university that have high demands for energy and other resources are able to leverage that demand to influence decision-making at local and regional levels,” Ledbetter said. “It’s important to act in this space where we are able to influence the change we advocate for. This agreement has been an exciting first step for the university.”

Ledbetter hopes to make a similar change for operations at other university sites, such as the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and the Sierra Vista Campus.

“The systems we’ve developed to serve the university and the community are large scale but away from campus, so we wanted to provide something that gives people a way to understand that connection, but in a fun and interesting way” , said Joe Salkowski. , TEP’s senior director of communications and public affairs.

“For TEP, this facility symbolizes the steps we are prepared to take to help our customers achieve their sustainability goals,” said Susan Gray, CEO of TEP, a UArizona alumnus who started at TEP in as an engineering intern. “As a company, we have set ambitious goals on behalf of the community. By 2035, we plan to source 75% of our electricity from renewable sources, reducing our carbon emissions by 80%. But we know some of our customers have even bigger plans, and we’re happy to help achieve those goals.We’re very proud of our partnership with the University of Arizona, a true leader in sustainability. in our community.

Another physical demonstration of the deal on campus are solar panels installed by TEP on the university’s Environment and Natural Resources Building 2. The panels shade a rooftop garden for the ENR2 Rooftop Photovoltaics (PV)+ project, an experimental education and research site where students can study the co-location of solar panels and power plants.

This fall, TEP will mount another solar panel just south of the university Albert B. Weaver Science and Engineering Library close to Student Success Districtto serve as shade for an outdoor classroom or as seating and bicycle parking.

The partnership with TEP is just one of many ongoing sustainability efforts at UArizona.

Building on the success of the TEP Agreement, the UArizona Office of Sustainability is beginning the process of creating the first-ever Sustainability and Climate Action Plan. The process is expected to launch in October and last until fall 2023.

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