LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) Lafayette’s largest renewable energy project will begin within the next year.  The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana Generating LLC, a subsidiary of NRG, Inc. have agreed to build a five million dollar state of the art solar project on campus.

A five acre field in the northeastern part of University Research Park is empty now but in the future will be filled with rows of solar panels.  The Photovaltaic Applied Research and Training (PART) Lab will give students hands on alternative energy training and serve as a power generator.

About a year ago, Louisiana Generating LLC and NRG Energy Inc offered to install solar panels to reduce costs for the Department of Engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  But the department had a bigger vision.

“We said instead of putting solar panels on the roof why don’t we do a project that will have lasting impact?” said Dr. Terrence Chambers, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at UL Lafayette who is leading the project.   He says the part lab will  generate up to 10 percent of the university’s power, saving an estimated 160 thousand dollars a year.  “offset the use of fossil fuels and thus reduce emissions of course” he adds.

The goal is to investigate and test solar technologies while training and inspiring the engineers of tomorrow.  “We need engineers and scientists that can help us transition (to renewable energy) in a good way and in a way we hope that will make sure that Louisiana is always at the forefront when people think of energy.”

Dr. Chambers says the PART Lab will be a beacon of light in the energy revolution.  “Within the Energy Institute of Louisiana we have a very well rounded portfolio so anytime industry or government needs to know something about renewable energy we feel that they can come to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and we can help them out.”

Construction is expected to begin within the next 3 to 6 months and will take less than a year to complete.  NRG is funding the $5 million project and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will own and operate the lab.