Solar Panel Units to Become ‘Living Labs’ for Students

March 5, 2014 -- As part of CNM’s sustainability efforts, the college is installing four new photovoltaic (solar panel) systems at four locations, which will provide both energy for the college and learning opportunities for students.

Jul 17, 2015


The first system went up on the roof of the Rio Rancho Campus building. The second is currently being mounted at the Westside Campus on the roof of the Westside I Building. Additional units will follow at Ken Chappy Hall on Main Campus and the Workforce Training Center.

While the units will provide limited power to the buildings, their main purpose is to serve as symbols of CNM’s commitment to renewable energy while furthering the college’s efforts to provide “living labs” for students and faculty members.

“The systems will give students hands-on learning opportunities, allowing them to discover how they work and the chemistry involved,” said Luis Campos, executive director of CNM’s Physical Plant. “They will become living labs by merging academics with the solar-panel technology, allowing students to learn about concepts related to the panels in a real-world environment. For the institution, it’s another path to advance our sustainability goals.”

Faculty members from various disciplines are currently working alongside Facilities staff to develop learning outcomes that will enhance the student experience. The types of classes range from electrical trades to math and science to communication.

Faculty have also been involved in designing the computer dashboard that will be installed as part of the project. The dashboard will provide faculty with data regarding the effectiveness and the efficiencies of the solar systems, which will inform students, staff and faculty about how much energy is being generated at each photovoltaic site and power equivalencies. For example, a certain amount of energy generated by a unit might be enough to power a number of houses for a day.

Steve House is the president of Triple H Solar, the company responsible for supporting Campos during the procurement and installation of the panels. House is available to speak to classes to give a brief introduction on solar energy – he can also tailor a presentation to the needs of a faculty member’s class. Real-time data on the performance of the facilities will be available online and can be shown to displayed in classes. Faculty interested in having House visit their classes can contact him at

Campos said that faculty also participated from the beginning in planning the solar panel project at each location. They were involved in the selection of the contractor, and relationships are being formed between faculty and the industry. Some faculty members have been inviting the engineer and contractor into the classroom as guest lecturers to further help students understand the numerous opportunities that exist in the solar industry and how renewable energy works.

“We expect the solar panels to provide real learning experiences for the students that will stay with them all their lives,” Campos said.