CPSE Executive Vice President Cris Eugster at Alamo 1, currently the largest solar farm in Texas. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
CPSE Executive Vice President Cris Eugster at Alamo 1, currently the largest solar farm in Texas. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

In 2010, CPS Energy agreed to commission up to $50 million worth of research over 10 years from the University of Texas at San Antonio‘s Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (TSERI).

“This may be the biggest, most exciting thing that has happened at UTSA in our history,” UTSA President Ricardo Romo told the Express-News at the time.

After five years, 2010-2015, CPS Energy has paid TSERI less than $6.57 million for data analytics, research and development – an average of about $1.3 million per year. CPS Energy officials said they do not expect to come close to the $50 million mark, but the public utility isn’t ruling it out.

“This (agreement) has always been about deliverables and what has value to CPS Energy,” said CPS Energy Vice President of Generation and Strategy Cris Eugster on Monday. “So every year we scope projects that we need and that they’re capable of providing and that’s how the numbers have played out.

“I don’t think that we’re going to necessarily get (to $50 million) in the time that we talked about,” Eugster added, “but there’s potential for other opportunities.”

CPS Energy’s board approved $700,000 for next year’s funding on Monday that includes $420,000 for data analytics that focuses on multi-tenant buildings and solar forecasting and $280,000 for cyber and information security research. CPS Energy also has its own, in-house research and development (R&D) staff.

For TSERI interim Director Juan Gomez, it’s not about the money.

“I don’t think it’s my position to say we’re disappointed or not,” Gomez said. “Everyone got surprised by the number …. but the dollar amount is to some extent irrelevant. What we should be monitoring more (are) the outcomes.”

TSERI has six employees, but it also has access to UTSA’s vast departmental network: from its top-ranked cybersecurity or cloud computing programs to the schools of architecture, engineering, and business.

“We have work across the entire university,” Gomez said. “When we establish a new research area we look at who the expert is in our network.”

TSERI has performed several research projects for CPS Energy in the past including reports on carbon capture, smart grid, energy storage, energy efficiency, sustainability education, solar and wind forecasting, electric transportation and distributed energy. This is the first time security has been brought to TSERI by CPS Energy.

The professional and educational relationships and exchange of information is priceless, Gomez said. TSERI is funded through various state, federal, and philanthropic grants, so it’s kept plenty busy.

“To some degree the capabilities that they’re standing up there, it’s hard to get to $50 million of (the institute’s) R&D capabilities,” Eugster said. “This (agreement with CPS Energy) was never a grant. We wanted to help the university move towards tier one, build capabilities, expertise knowledge – but always tied to the project that we had going on.”

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Top image: CPSE Executive Vice President Cris Eugster at Alamo 1, currently the largest solar farm in Texas. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org