Monday, July 27, 2009

ARRA Funds Tennessee Solar Project

ARRA Funds Tennessee Solar Project

Tennessee is about to commit $62 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to funding two solar venues; research and development (R&D), and a solar farm. Together, the two will jointly fulfill Governor Phil Bredeson’s Volunteer State Solar Initiative.

The R&D will come from a newly created Tennessee Solar Institute (TSI), a joint creation of the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville campus, and the laboratories at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The university entity, UT-Battelle, LLC, was formed in 2000 as the private, non-profit operational arm of the ORNL, and represents a 50-50 partnership between UT and Battelle Memorial Institute. ORNL is a premier U.S. science and technology laboratory managed for the U.S. Department of Energy, and its presence in the state puts Tennessee well ahead of the scientific curve.

The final shot in the arm for Tennessee’s burgeoning solar industry will be the West Tennessee Solar Farm near Brownsville, a five-megawatt, 15-acre power generation facility at the 1,720-acre Haywood County industrial megasite which will serve as a solar demo for educational, research and economic-development purposes.

Tennessee, whose original claim to fame was as the nation’s country music capital, is also beginning to shine in the solar energy field, and the presence of Sharp Manufacturing in Hickory Hill is evidence of that. The Sharp factory offers the opportunity to put technology developed at TSI to the test in the factory and the marketplace. Sharp, which up until 2000 manufactured televisions and microwave ovens, now makes solar panels. In 2008, the 1 millionth solar panel rolled off the assembly line.

Even now, with the bottom falling out of the economy, the Sharp plant still runs 24/7, and the delicate process of assembly is, according to Sharp Vice President T. C. Jones, Jr., work that couldn’t be done without human hands. This translates into jobs as solar emerges from a niche market to a serious competitor in the energy generation field.

The Sharp manufacturing plant on South Mendenhall Road opened in 1978 and has always represented the city’s international big business presence. Now, with the energy-source paradigm shifting toward renewables in the face of cap-and-trade and other emissions penalties, the plant represents a cornerstone of Tennessee’s nascent solar energy industry – an industry just given a $62-million shot in the arm.

Other Tennessee industries that will further solar energy development include the new Hemlock semiconductor plant in Clarksville, and the new Wacker Chemie plant in Cleveland, which will process pure polycrystalline silicon, or polysilicon. Wacker Chemie is the world’s second-largest supplier and processor of polysilicon.

But the Sharp plant doesn’t just make solar panels, it also uses them to provide some power to the plant. In fact, a solar array toward the back of the plant produces enough energy that Sharp sells a portion back to Memphis Light, Gas & Water every month.

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