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UL Lafayette to address energy resiliency with $87 million award, its largest in history

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will create Community Resilience Hubs and lead workforce development as part of the state’s strategic energy resilience initiative, Hubs for Energy Resilience Operations (HERO).

The initiative’s goal: to give communities access to electricity and other vital services during times of natural disaster.

Announced Wednesday, it includes a $250 million Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, coupled with a $250 million match from state partners. UL Lafayette received $87 million in federal funding and matching funds and is the largest single recipient of funding. This award is the largest in University history.

The state will initiate a comprehensive integrated community energy planning process and will deploy a modernized network of Community Resilience Hubs powered by distributed solar and battery microgrids.

The project will enhance statewide emergency response operations by integrating the HERO Hubs with utility-owned electric grid infrastructure and back-up generation assets.

According to Dr. Terry Chambers, director of the University’s EDA-funded Green Hydrogen Center of Excellence and its Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Center, Community Resilience Hubs will be implemented by building solar and battery microgrids at the three University research centers: the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab, located in University Research Park in Lafayette; the New Iberia Research Center; and the Cleco Alternative Energy Center in Crowley. Portable solar and Wi-Fi pods will also be deployed.

“Driven by a commitment to community resilience, we’re implementing these hubs at key research centers. These hubs represent a significant leap toward a more sustainable and connected future,” Chambers said.

The University will also help implement four more projects with Power Strategies, a Louisiana-based clean energy design, engineering, and planning company, to build solar and battery microgrids at Louisiana National Guard bases in Baton Rouge, Hammond and Sulphur.

“The microgrids will – after a hurricane, for instance – serve communities by assisting first responders and providing spots where there would be power and people could get food and water, cool off, or charge cell phones,” Chambers explained.

The University will also train workers to install these microgrids. Earlier this year, the Louisiana Solar Corps was established for such training. The intent of the Corps is to help workers land internships with solar companies that lead to permanent jobs. The University will work with Xavier University, Louisiana Green Corps and the Louisiana State Building and Trades Council to expand the Louisiana Solar Corps program to cover microgrids as well as solar energy training across three training pathways: pre-apprentice to apprentice programs, and two- and four-year pathways.

Lastly, the University will establish a Center of Excellence for Crisis Events with its National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute (NIMSAT). The institute focuses on enriching public-private partnerships and advanced information technologies to enhance the national resiliency for a full range of potential disasters.

As a national leader in both sustainable and traditional energy technologies, the University is well-positioned for this project.   It owns and operates the 4,200 panel Louisiana Solar Energy Lab, one of the largest outdoor solar testing facilities in the southeastern United States. In addition, the University is home to Antoun Hall, a state-of-the art 4,500-square-foot indoor solar laboratory and classroom building, which stands beside the solar field at University Research Park and will serve as the headquarters for the University's efforts on the HERO project.

Together, these assets along with the Green Hydrogen Center of Excellence make the University a hub for solar research, technology development, instruction, training, outreach and workforce development, said Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, vice president for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development.

“Our state is prone to natural disasters that can cause significant disruptions to our power grids. As a global leader in renewable and solar energies, our top-tier R1 research institution is uniquely positioned to improve the resiliency of our state during times of disasters. For more than a decade, we have been leading in the areas of disaster resiliency and energy resiliency, and through this project, we are bringing together those capabilities to make Louisiana more resilient and serve as a national model. We believe that to be our obligation as a public research university,” Kolluru said.

HERO will help solidify Louisiana’s position as a leader in the global energy transition, as well as advance the goals established by the State of Louisiana Interagency Work Group. The work group was established in 2022 to strategize on efforts to increase energy resilience and build sustainable grid infrastructure.

The HERO collaborative represents the Office of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana State Energy Office, Louisiana Public Service Commission, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Center for Planning Excellence, City of New Orleans, CLECO Power, Entergy Louisiana, Entergy New Orleans, NextGen Energy Partners, Southwestern Electric Power Company, Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government, The Accelerate Group, Together Louisiana, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Photo caption: UL Lafayette will create Community Resilience Hubs and lead workforce development as part of the state’s strategic energy resilience initiative, Hubs for Energy Resilience Operations. The HERO initiative is built around $250 million Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, coupled with a $250 million match from state partners. UL Lafayette received $87 million in federal funding and matching funds as part of the initiative. The makes it the initiative’s largest single recipient of funding. The award is the largest in University history. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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