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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UL Lafayette and First Solar: Partners in Progress for a Sustainable Future

In a groundbreaking announcement, First Solar, the largest solar energy manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere, unveiled plans to build its fifth U.S. manufacturing facility at Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia, Louisiana, and they plan to rely on research from UL Lafayette, according to this news release.

This exciting development represents a monumental investment, with First Solar allocating a staggering $1.1 billion into this project—a sum believed to be the largest single capital investment in the region’s history. Notably, this strategic location places the facility within close proximity to UL Lafayette, fostering a symbiotic relationship that will undoubtedly shape the future of solar energy in the area.

First Solar has ambitious goals for this new venture, aiming to create over 700 direct jobs with an annual payroll exceeding $40 million. A significant portion of the workforce will be sourced from UL Lafayette, underlining the close collaboration between the university and the solar energy giant. The facility’s primary objective is to produce high-performance photovoltaic (PV) solar modules, with construction anticipated to conclude by 2026.

Beyond job creation and economic development, First Solar envisions a deep partnership with UL Lafayette researchers across various domains, including technology development. The company also plans to offer internship opportunities for students and utilize university facilities for testing and training. Central to this collaboration is Antoun Hall, home to the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab—a sprawling 4,200-panel solar field spread across 6 acres. Adjacent to this field is a 4,500-square-foot building at University Research Park. This combined solar field and lab position UL Lafayette as a hub for solar research, technology development, instruction, training, outreach, and workforce development.

Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, the University’s Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the importance of collaborations between research universities like UL Lafayette, industry partners, and local entities like Acadiana Planning Commission, One Acadiana, Lafayette Economic Development Authority, and Iberia Parish leaders. These collaborations have been instrumental in achieving economic development milestones, facilitated by the impactful work of researchers like Dr. Chambers.

The Louisiana Economic Development (LED) estimates that in addition to the direct jobs created by First Solar, the presence of the company will result in at least 694 new indirect jobs. When combined with the 700 new direct jobs, this equates to a total of approximately 1,400 new jobs in the Acadiana region. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwardscelebrated this achievement, asserting that the selection of Iberia Parish for First Solar’s new solar panel production facility signifies Louisiana’s leadership in the global energy transition and the creation of well-paying jobs.

First Solar stands out among the world’s top 10 solar manufacturers as the only U.S.-headquartered company not manufacturing in China. Their tellurium-based semiconductor technology allows them to bypass dependence on Chinese crystalline silicon supply chains, making them a unique player in the industry. Mark Widmar, Chief Executive Officer of First Solar, emphasized their commitment to creating enduring value for America by expanding solar manufacturing and domestic value chains. The new Louisiana facility will be tasked with producing First Solar’s Series 7 modules, which are expected to be manufactured with 100% U.S.-made components. This aligns with current domestic content guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Once the factory is operational, Series 7 modules will account for over two-thirds of First Solar’s annual domestic nameplate capacity.

In closing, First Solar’s monumental investment in Louisiana signifies a turning point in the renewable energy landscape. It showcases the power of collaboration between industry leaders like First Solar and esteemed educational institutions like UL Lafayette in propelling the nation toward a sustainable energy future. As we witness the convergence of cutting-edge technology and academia, the benefits will not only be economic but also environmental, reinforcing the significance of investing in renewable energy sources.

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Lab School to Be a Center of Learning, Teaching, and Education at UL Lafayette Campus

It was recently announced via this informative article from The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, that the school has found a home for the ULL Learning Lab. The Learning Lab will be a laboratory school that will be housed in a two-story, 70,000-square foot building in UL Lafayette’s Research Park.

The building that will host the ULL Learning Lab was originally occupied by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is a federal agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but it was recently announced that the building would be transferred to the University by U.S. Senator John Kennedy.

The Interim Dean of the ULL College of Education and Human Development, Dr. Paula Montgomery, spoke about the Learning Lab saying, “beyond a cutting-edge learning and teaching environment, the Learning Lab will be a hub for teaching practice and theory, education-based research and interdisciplinary collaboration. Acquiring a home for the lab school moves us that much closer to opening its doors.” Dr. Montgomery mentioned that the Learning Lab will offer students an expansive education that will feature the following: model teaching methods as well as an innovative curriculum that will encompass both interactive and outdoor learning experiences.

While there is not a set date on when the Learning Lab will be opened, ULL professor and the college’s former dean, Dr. Nathan Roberts explained that “renovations to convert the building into a space for innovative learning, teaching, and research is one of the priorities.”

Dr. Roberts was instrumental in the implementation of the lab school. He explained that initial proposals for the Labwould call for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students to enroll at the school with the eventual expansion through Eighth grade during the first several years. Eventually, this would lead to a high school, as the framework is based on “substantial interest from parents of potential students, school administrators, public officials, and community organizations. So, we’re excited to have the capacity to serve a wide range of people and foster partnerships.”

Essentially, the Learning Lab will be operating as an independent school district in the same manner as LSU andSouthern University’s lab schools. Additionally, it will be funded with a blend of tuition and state support. Furthermore, donor support will also be an essential aspect of the creation of the Learning Lab and its activities. UL Lafayette plans to fund the Lab School as a part of the largest comprehensive funding initiative in the history of the University. UL Lafayette plans to raise $500 in its campaign, which is titled “Together: The Campaign for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

One of the aims of the Learning Lab will involve it being a place for the majority, if not all, of ULL students studying and training to become teachers to be able to gain valuable classroom experience by observing and participating in the lab school in addition to their field experiences in local area school districts. Dr. Aimee Barber is an assistant professor in ULL’s Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction, and she also co-chairs a faculty and staff committee that oversees the establishment of the school.

Dr. Barber explained, “the intent will be to immerse our teacher candidates in a space that enables them to not only learn about global best practice, but actually implement best practice as part of their teacher preparation. So, in their junior year, they will be immersed in laboratory school classrooms in preparation for their final year, which is a year-long residency in area public schools.”

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ULL Scientists Research Environmental Impacts of Hurricanes

A partnership of two researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is working within an international team of scientists to study the ecological impacts of previous hurricanes to inform how coastal ecosystems may best prepare for and respond to future storms, according to a news release from the University.

The international research team of scientists has recently published their study, “A General Pattern of Trade-Offs Between Ecosystem Resistance and Resilience to Tropical Cyclones,” in Science Advances, an academic journal that is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The researchers’ findings in the study have reportedly provided insight into how our coastal ecosystems might respond to future storms, to which as anyone in the Gulf Coast region can attest, are always around the corner.

The study was co-authored by UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer, an associate professor of Biology, and Dr. Kelly Robinson, an assistant professor of Biology. Dr. Christopher Patrick of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science led the research team for the study, whose whole team was made up of 23 scientists from 11 states, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico. The team’s study is a part of the National Science Foundation’s Hurricane Ecosystem Response Synthesis (HERS), and Dr. Stauffer is a co-principal investigator for the research coordination network.

This collaborative research coordination network aims to bring together research on how an ecosystem’s long-term or more recent environmental history might influence its response to subsequent storms. In addition to this, the network will also collaborate on researching how species traits such as reproductive potential, dispersal mode and distance, and physiological tolerance might explain certain patterns of resistance and resilience.

In their research, the team used both pre-storm monitoring surveys and post-storm monitoring surveys to examine the resilience and resistance of coastal ecosystems across 26 different storms. The 26 total storms used for the research team’s data were selected among those that had made landfall in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth between the years 1985 and 2018. The researchers set out to study the effects of such a wide array of storms in order to maximize the scope of their data.

When speaking on the widening of the research’s scope in the study, UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer said, “most hurricane-related research is done on a single-storm, single-system basis. So studies like this one are especially powerful in bringing together the results from that diverse research and finding more general rules for how ecosystems respond to hurricanes.”

In working on their study, researchers were able to document post-storm changes related to the distribution and abundance of living things such as oysters, fishes, mangrove plants, and microbes. Outside of these living things, researchers also documented the observed changes made to various ecosystems’ biochemistry such as salinity levels, nitrogen levels, and hydrography such as depth and shoreline position.

Additionally, the researchers were able to analyze, document, and gauge storm characteristics and impacts based on critical factors like maximum wind speed and rainfall rate. They were also able to consider four types of ecosystems in total: freshwater, saltwater, terrestrial, and wetland ecosystems.

In speaking on the benefits of analyzing multiple ecosystems, ULL’s Dr. Kelly Robinson said, “cross-ecosystem analyses help us understand the resilience and vulnerability of animals and plants that ultimately support recreational and commercial activities along our coasts. This study provides an important reference point against which we can measure the impacts on coastal ecosystems from future hurricanes, which are predicted to strengthen as oceans warm due to climate change.”

When it comes to understanding hurricanes in an effort to not only anticipate their arrival but to prepare on how to respond to them after they pass, the regional expertise of two researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette cannot be underestimated nor undervalued.

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University of Louisiana at Lafayette Announces $500 Million Fundraising Campaign

Oftentimes the spirit of giving accompanies the end of the year, and at UL Lafayette, that spirit is abundant. According to this news release from the university, a $500 million comprehensive fundraising campaign was announced by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, making it the largest single fundraising initiative in the school’s long history.

The initiative, which was formally started on November 5th is titled Together: The Campaign for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and according to UL Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie, the half-billion-dollar goal is not only about focusing on the school and its students, but the surrounding community, state, and world they find themselves in.

In his rousing speech announcing the historic milestone fundraising goal, Dr. Savoie stated that in reaching the $500 million goal, ULL will also “enhance the role the University plays in strengthening our community, deepening our wider understanding, and opening the door to a world-class education for those who come here to pursue their aspirations. This campaign is our moment to look upward and see that the only obstacle we face – the only limit we have – is our own capacity to dream. Together, we can – and will – shape the future.”

Four days following its announcement, the fundraising campaign was over halfway towards meeting its target, according to UL Lafayette vice president for University Advancement and CEO of the UL Foundation, John Blohm. Reportedly, alumni and friends of the university had already provided $303 million in pledges and gifts during its initial phase, which began in 2016.

As of today, the campaign has enabled the University to create many opportunities for faculty and students. This is seen in the four endowed chairs, 34 endowed professorships, and 122 endowed student scholarship funds that have been created thanks to the campaign.

In their donation, ULL alumni and friends have chosen to support various construction projects and renovations of teaching and learning spaces found inside several academic colleges over the years. Included in these projects made possible by the generosity of alumni and friends are the Maraist Financial Services Lab, which is located inside of theB.I. Moody III College of Business Administration, the Northwestern Mutual Sales and Research Lab, and the Grant Gibson Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory in the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences.

Additionally, several labs such as the Franks CAD Student Education Laboratory, Nick Pugh Aerospace Electronics Research Lab, and the Solar Energy Program of Excellence were created in a similar manner, and all three of the aforementioned labs are located inside ULL’s College of Engineering. Not to mention, the fundraising campaign has also helped to renovate the Roy House, which turned it into the new home for the Center for Louisiana Studies and the creation of the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center.

Included in the $303 million that has already been raised in the campaign are the two single largest gift committees in university history. These are the $20 million from LHC Group that was for the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions and the $15 million from Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center for the renovation of Cajun Field. Both of these pledges were received by ULL in 2021.

According to UL Lafayette’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, Dr. Jaime Hebert, of the approximately 25,000 individuals who have made an effort to give to the campaign to date, 62% were identified as being ULL alumni, 30% friends, and 8% organizations.

Dr. Hebert reelected on the funds raised so far in the campaign by remarking, “this campaign has provided more opportunities for student success, world-class facilities for our student-athletes, a deeper connection to this community and its culture, and a stronger, better prepared and more agile workforce. None of this would have been possible without donors and friends working with the University to empower our students and change their destinies.”

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New Cajun Prairie Habitat and Outdoor Classroom Coming to UL Lafayette

Students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will soon be able to take their learning outside of the traditional classroom setting by building an innovative outdoor classroom to study Louisiana’s Cajun Prairie, according to a news release from the school.

The new classroom is just one of two new environmental changes happening at the University as part of their Sustainability Strategic Plan, an initiative that encourages the creation of urban prairie environments on ULL’s campus. The project to cultivate the planned Cajun Prairie Habitat aligns with the Office of Sustainability’s master plan for stormwater management. By installing more urban prairies instead of other types of landscaping systems and structures, ULL will reduce the need for mowing, help to reduce stormwater runoff, and provide a habitat for bees, birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Once the urban prairie is installed on the campus, it will also serve as an outdoor classroom from which students can conduct research and learn about stormwater runoff erosion management, native grasses and plants, bees and other pollinators, and soil quality. Also, in addition to being used by students directly involved in STEM courses and research studies, the outdoor environment will also serve as a type of gathering spot for all types of learning.

Gretchen LaCombe Vanicor, the director of the University’s Office of Sustainability said of the layout, “the idea is to have a plaza-like outdoor seating area with no walls or roofing – a true outdoor classroom where students, faculty members, and the public can meet while they are working on the project.”

This vision of a school-wide classroom isn’t just a concept that exists in the completion of the Cajun Prairie Habitat and Outdoor Classroom, but the interdisciplinary aspects of the project’s inception, planning, construction, and much more will provide learning opportunities for students from many colleges and disciplines.

The work to bring this project to life will begin this fall semester with an interdisciplinary effort to plant more native flowers and grasses along the 4 acres on either side of Coulee Mine, a stream that bisects University Common behind Blackham Coliseum. The planting of more native fauna along this section of the waterway will be led by UL Lafayette’s Ecology Center and its Office of Sustainability. This work will lay the foundation for what will become of the urban prairie environment, as it allows for students, community officials, faculty members, and researchers to gather and learn about the ecological value of native flowers and grasses in an environment where they actually exist.

Vanicor went on to highlight this stage as “one of the most important components of the project, because native plants’ expansive, fibrous root systems hold soil, reducing erosion caused by stormwater runoff. They slow water drainage, which reduces flooding, and also filters contaminants.”

Outside of the Ecology Center leading the installation and planting of the prairie, other ULL schools are collaborating to bring the project to life. For example, students who will help design and build the outdoor classroom will be from the School of Architecture and Design. Then, after it’s completed, students partaking in community service with the University’s AmeriCorps program and the Office of First-Year Experience’s ‘Big Event’ will coordinate the maintenance of the urban prairie along the coulee.

According to Vanicor, any findings and research gathered at the future site will be shared with public officials and water management professionals in an effort “to inform community dialogue and decisions, including about implementing flood mitigation methods.”

So while it’s encouraging for UL Lafayette to have so many students from several of the University’s departments and schools coming together to bring the academic and ecological dream of the Cajun Prairie Habitat and Outdoor Classroom to life, the Louisiana community outside of the school will also be able to benefit from the research conducted in the urban prairie as well.

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