UNM engineering graduate students will work at a new sustainable energy community, Mesa del Sol, which aims to showcase sustainable urban development and accommodate Albuquerque’s growth.

Director of the Center for Emerging Energy Technologies Andrea Mammoli said the project is part of a $15 million collaboration between the community, UNM and the New and Industrial Technology Development Organization. He said NEDO, a Japanese organization similar to the United States Department of Energy, built a microgrid at Mesa del Sol, an area south of Rio Bravo Boulevard and east of I-25.

NEDO is made up of Japanese companies, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Fuji Electric, Toshiba and Sharp, and designed and constructed the $15 million microgrid to take advantage of the activities and infrastructure at Mesa del Sol.

The microgrid is a collection of power generation and energy storage devices, such as a natural gas powered generator and fuel cells, which can continue to provide power when traditional energy grids fail. Students will use the microgrid to become familiar with new sustainable energy practices.

“This is actually very valuable because there are very few programs, not just in New Mexico but in the whole country, that actually train students in operating and understanding these kinds of power systems,” Mammoli said.

The Mesa del Sol area includes 20 model homes, the microgrid and offices for UNM students and NEDO employees to perform their research. He said that in the future, Mesa del Sol will house 30,000 to 40,000 homes as well as businesses, retail and recreational facilities.

The community already includes UNM’s Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media Program and The International School at Mesa del Sol, a K-6 charter school. The area will eventually be the size of Santa Fe, and will allow scientists to study how a sustainable city could work.

“Because it’s being built from scratch, we have the opportunity to show some concepts of what a future city should look like and what future electrical infrastructure should look like,” Mammoli said. “That’s the reason why the microgrid is located there.”

According to the Mesa del Sol website, homes within the community meet both Energy Star 3.0 standards and energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Some of the homes use solar energy and rainwater harvesting technology.

The homes have been available for purchase since March 2012.
Forest City Covington, the company that developed Mesa del Sol, built the Stapleton Community, a sustainable energy community in Denver, 10 years ago.

Students will work with UNM faculty and Japanese researchers to learn how the community’s technology can be used to support real cities. Students involved in the research will have a competitive edge because they will learn how microgrid systems are made and work.

“Basically, they get training in how the power grid is going to work in the future,” Mammoli said. “If you look at the utility industry, a lot of people are reaching the retirement age and so eventually there will be a need for new people to work in that industry.”

Mammoli said UNM can only run models and simulations because NEDO has physical control over the microgrid the first two years, but the University will be able to run physical tests with the microgrid beginning in 2014.