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Dominion Virginia Power Funds Solar Energy Research Project on Roof of ODU’s Kaufman Hall

smarsill-sylvain-marsillacSylvain Marsillac

Old Dominion University photovoltaic (PV) energy researcher Sylvain Marsillac, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, has received a $500,000 grant to help test solar energy concepts on the roof of Kaufman Hall, ODU's engineering building.

The three-year funding award, announced Jan. 26 by Gov. Bob McDonnell, is the largest award of $1.4 million earmarked for public universities in Dominion Virginia Power's renewable energy research and development funding, under the company's new Research and Development Partnership Program.

Marsillac, one of the country's leading researchers into photovoltaic energy, has received more than $3 million in funding from sources such as the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation since arriving in Norfolk a little more than two years ago.

The ODU funding, which runs until 2016, will help Marsillac work in collaboration with Dominion to study issues related to economics, operation, maintenance and performance of large-scale solar installations.

That will be done through a newly installed structure on the roof of Kaufman Hall, which will allow Marsillac and Shirshak Dhali, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to evaluate different panels and mounting structures, and develop a way to detect failure of solar cells in real time.

In December, Marsillac excitedly oversaw the move of a base and tracking system for the solar panels to the Kaufman Hall roof. The solar panel installation begins Friday, Jan. 18, and the panels should be operational by the spring.

"Besides the research opportunity, this study should also benefit local solar energy installers, and demonstrate the viability of Virginia as a great PV market to investors and industry leaders," Marsillac said.

In announcing the grants to several Virginia universities, McDonnell lauded the schools selected, and applauded Dominion Virginia Power for picking up on the legislation proposed in the last session of the Virginia General Assembly that provides utilities financial credit for these investments toward meeting their statutory renewable energy goals.

"Dominion Virginia Power is providing the seed money necessary for alternative and renewable energy research in Virginia and helping to keep the commonwealth on track to becoming the 'Energy Capital of the East Coast,'" McDonnell said.

"This funding will provide dividends to all Virginians in the future while Dominion today is adding renewable solar and biomass energy and is in the early stages of testing wind generation off the coast of Virginia. The Virginia General Assembly is to be commended for allowing such R&D activities to count toward utilities meeting the goals of the commonwealth's renewable portfolio standard. Virginia welcomes initiatives like these to develop technologies that can increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of renewable energy resources and support broad integration of Virginia's alternative energy resources into a diverse energy portfolio."

While ODU and the other institutions will be carrying out a substantial amount of the research on their own, Sarah B. Cosby, of Alternative Energy Solutions for Dominion Resources Services Inc., said that Dominion will be an active participant in the process, receiving quarterly updates and other regular interactions with the university that may involve joint decision making as the project moves forward.

Dominion sought proposals from Virginia colleges and universities, asking them to include a requested funding amount and proposed project term of one to three years. Dominion and each university collaborated on the funding needs and project schedule.

Here are the projects selected for funding:

Appalachian School of Law, $95,000, "Removing Barriers to the Development of Onshore Wind Energy in Virginia"

An analysis of the legal, regulatory, policy and public opinion obstacles and opportunities for onshore wind development in Virginia, primarily with respect to siting and permitting. This includes cataloging the policy incentives and disincentives that exist for permitting and siting onshore wind facilities.

Christopher Newport University, $50,000, "Overview of Offshore Wind Energy in the United States and the European Union"

The study will focus on drivers, incentives, mandates and other market considerations that affect the supply and demand for offshore wind energy.

George Washington University, Virginia Science and Technology Campus, $150,000 over two years, "High-Efficiency Intermediate-Band Solar Cells with Quantum Dots"

Motivated by advancements in nanotechnology, this project will seek to engineer solar cells that will use the unique properties of quantum dots to raise conversion efficiency of solar light into electricity.

Longwood University, $50,000, "Biomass Optimization Prototype"

A multiphase project to develop a prototype biomass processing plant with the goal of improving the energy gained from the biomass when burned. RPS R&D funding will support Phase 1 Pre-planning Study to identify the most efficient and sustainable way of processing, drying and storing biomass.

Virginia State University, $150,000 over two years, "Green Roof Initiative"

This study seeks to combine green roof and alternative energy technologies in novel ways to improve both the energy efficiency of buildings and the sustainable use of water for irrigation.

Virginia Tech, $300,000 over three years, "Center for Natural Resources Assessment and Decision Support"

Supports the establishment of a new center with a goal of ensuring that the forests of Virginia are used and managed sustainably so they may continue to provide an array of products and services for the benefit of current and future generations.

Virginia Union University, $150,000 over two years, "Sustainable Design Strategies"

The project will collect baseline energy usage data at campus facilities. This information will later be used in the design of energy-efficient buildings and to conduct comparative analysis of sustainable design strategies.

Dominion is discussing potential additional projects with the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University.