This month, the University of Arizona unveiled a clever, interactive display that demonstrates how TEP uses wind and solar resources to deliver clean energy to the university’s main campus.

The 7-foot by 12-foot display features red and blue golf balls that race along winding steel tracks amid miniature campus landmarks like Arizona Stadium and Old Main. The balls represent energy generated by TEP’s Wilmot Energy Center, a solar-plus-storage system south of Tucson, and its Oso Grande Wind system in southeast New Mexico, both of which power the university’s main campus.

Built by Tucson-based Creative Machines, the rolling ball machine was unveiled this month near the Student Union Memorial Center’s south entrance. It serves as a visual representation of the Large Scale Renewable Energy agreement between the university and TEP, which began in July 2021.

The 20-year clean energy agreement satisfies all of the school’s purchased energy needs for its main campus, reducing its total carbon footprint by one-third. Here are a few fun facts about the display.

Standing tall

The miniature wind turbine encased in the ball machine is about 4 feet, 8 inches tall. That means you’d need to stack about 125 of them to match the height of Oso Grande’s largest wind turbines at about 600 feet (twice the height of the Statue of Liberty).

Nice device

The ball machine features several “devices” that move the balls around the display. These include:

  • A Ferris wheel – a derivative of what Creative Design calls a “chaos wheel” – in UA colors that spins in a counterintuitive manner. Chaos theory is studied in mathematics, ecology and evolutionary biology, and other subjects at the university.
  • A rotating auger that lifts the balls up an inclined plane, entering at the bottom and exiting at the top. TEP also uses augers, but usually on drills that help us install power poles.
  • A switch that directs balls either left or right. TEP works around the clock to provide safe, reliable electric service for you anytime you flip a switch at your home or business.

What’s in a number?

Another device features miniature UA athletes doing the “wave” like visitors at Arizona Stadium. Here’s what some of the player numbers signify.

  • Men’s basketball, 73 – McKale Center opened in 1973
  • Football, 31 – UArizona’s first football game was played under flood lights in 1931
  • Volleyball, 92 –Tucson Electric Light & Power Company formed in 1892

A first for Tucson

Creative Machines, headquartered in Tucson, was founded in 2001. Although it has installed more than 250 interactive exhibits around the world, the ball machine represents its first large-scale installation in Tucson. The company installed a small ball machine this year at Children’s Museum Tucson, where TEP sponsors the Electri-City exhibit.

Other Creative Machines installations around the world include “Le Reve de Newton,” a display located in the interactive Pass Museum in Frameries, Belgium that visually explores the concept of energy, the “Perpetual Nephron Machine,” a traveling display designed to describe the process of uric acid removal in patients with chronic kidney disease, and “Sweet Morning Love Tower,” a whimsical, pink, 40-foot-tall tower at a department store in Seoul, South Korea.

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