How UL Lafayette’s HERO Initiative Shapes the Energy Transition

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette) has embarked on a groundbreaking initiative that aims to bolster energy resiliency in the state. With an $87 million award, the university is set to play a pivotal role in the implementation of Community Resilience Hubs and workforce development as part of the state’s broader energy resilience initiative known as Hubs for Energy Resilience Operations (HERO), as per this news release from the school.

The primary objective of the HERO initiative is to provide communities with access to electricity and essential services during natural disasters, a critical need underscored by the increasing frequency and intensity of such events. In a significant announcement made on Wednesday, UL Lafayette disclosed that it secured a monumental $250 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, complemented by a matching contribution of $250 million from state partners. This funding constitutes the largest single award in the university’s history, signaling a substantial commitment to the project’s success.

To achieve the ambitious goals set forth by HERO, the state will kickstart a comprehensive integrated community energy planning process. The cornerstone of this effort involves deploying a modernized network of Community Resilience Hubs, powered by distributed solar and battery microgrids. These hubs are strategically designed to enhance emergency response operations by integrating seamlessly with existing utility-owned electric grid infrastructure and backup generation assets.

Dr. Terry Chambers, the director of UL Lafayette’s EDA-funded Green Hydrogen Center of Excellence, emphasized the university’s commitment to community resilience. He outlined plans to implement Community Resilience Hubs by establishing solar and battery microgrids at three key university research centers: the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab in University Research Park, the New Iberia Research Center, and the Cleco Alternative Energy Center in Crowley. Additionally, portable solar and Wi-Fi pods will be deployed to further extend the reach of these hubs.

In collaboration with Power Strategies, a Louisiana-based clean energy design, engineering, and planning company, UL Lafayette will undertake four additional projects. These involve the construction of solar and battery microgrids at Louisiana National Guard bases in Baton Rouge, Hammond, and Sulphur. The microgrids will serve communities in the aftermath of disasters, providing essential support to first responders and creating safe spaces with power, food, water, and communication facilities.

Crucially, the university is not only focusing on infrastructure development but also on building the necessary expertise. Earlier this year, the Louisiana Solar Corps was established to train workers for the installation of microgrids. This initiative aims to connect workers with internships in solar companies, ultimately leading to permanent employment. UL Lafayette is partnering with Xavier University, Louisiana Green Corps, and the Louisiana State Building and Trades Council to expand the Louisiana Solar Corps program. The expansion will cover microgrids as well as solar energy training across various pathways, including pre-apprentice to apprentice programs and two- and four-year educational routes.

Furthermore, the University is establishing a Center of Excellence for Crisis Events within its National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute (NIMSAT). This institute focuses on strengthening public-private partnerships and leveraging advanced information technologies to enhance national resilience in the face of potential disasters.

UL Lafayette’s robust background in both sustainable and traditional energy technologies uniquely positions it as a leader in this project. With assets such as the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab and Antoun Hall, a state-of-the-art indoor solar laboratory, the university has long been a hub for solar research, technology development, instruction, training, outreach, and workforce development.

In conclusion, the HERO initiative spearheaded by UL Lafayette is a multifaceted and ambitious project that addresses not only immediate needs for energy resilience during disasters but also focuses on long-term sustainability and workforce development. By integrating cutting-edge technology, education, and community engagement, the university aims to set a national model for effective disaster response and energy resiliency.

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