University of Arizona Unveils Interactive Display to Highlight Clean Energy Partnership


TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) — The University of Arizona has unveiled an interactive display that uses trackballs to show how the university plans to cut its carbon footprint by a third over the next two decades.

Blue and red balls roll on winding steel tracks inside a glass display case. From a spinning miniature wind turbine and solar panels, the balls roll through replica campus landmarks such as Old Main, Arizona Stadium and Main Gate Square.

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. 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 for use after bedtime sunlight or when power demand increases.

The rolling ball machine, unveiled Friday, September 9, just south of the Student Union Memorial Centerwas designed and built by the Tucson 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 when visiting campus.

The Large Scale Renewable Energy agreement between the university and the TEP started in July 2021. The agreement is expected to reduce UA’s carbon footprint and save the university millions of dollars over the 20-year agreement.

Sustainability is a key program initiative at the university strategic plan.

“Universities and other institutions of higher learning play an important role as leaders in sustainability initiatives,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “First, because sustainability is essential to the education that 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 built environments and the future Earth.

Every part of the machine was made by hand. The 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.

A green and clean campus

Fiscal 2022 marked the first full year since the start of the large-scale renewable energy agreement. 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 university principal Trevor Ledbetter. Office of Sustainability and an instrumental part of the team that coordinated the deal with TEP.

The solar panels installed by TEP on the university’s Environment and Natural Resources Building 2 are another physical demonstration of the agreement. Panels shade a rooftop garden to ENR2 Rooftop Photovoltaics (PV)+ Projectan 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.

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