Solar Shines in Tennessee

Solar Shines in Tennessee

by Elizabeth A. Davis

In his 2009 State of the State address, Governor Phil Bredesen announced his intention for Tennessee to become a national leader in solar energy, and he turned to the University of Tennessee to accomplish his goal. With help from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority, the university is taking the lead in a field that could greatly impact the future of our state and nation.

The Volunteer State Solar Initiative, formally announced in May 2009, consists of two projects:

The Tennessee Solar Institute furthers the UT–Oak Ridge partnership and provides assistance to the state’s solar industry by increasing awareness, cementing relationships, capitalizing on resources, enhancing solar utilization, and promoting innovation.

The West Tennessee Solar Farm, a 5-megawatt 20-acre power generation facility near Brownsville, will be one of the largest solar installations in the Southeast. A power purchase agreement with TVA will provide revenues to be reinvested.

The initiative is funded by $62.5 million from the federal stimulus: $31 million for the solar farm and $29.2 million for the Tennessee Solar Institute, based in Knoxville.

“Short term, these new projects will go hand-in-hand with creating or supporting jobs in construction, manufacturing and installation, and scientific efforts to improve the affordability and efficiency of solar energy,” Bredesen said. “Long term, they will strengthen Tennessee’s reputation as a national energy research hub and emerging force in the U.S. solar industry.”

The solar initiative builds on Tennessee’s success in drawing solar companies to the state. Within the past year, Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie AG, both producers of polycrystalline silicon, a key precursor element in photovoltaic solar panels, announced plans to bring thousands of jobs to Tennessee. These companies complement the state’s solar industry, which also includes AGC Flat Glass in Kingsport and Sharp Electronics in Memphis. Confluence Solar announced in January 2010 that it also will move to Tennessee and cited the Tennessee Solar Institute and research capabilities at ORNL as reasons for the decision.

Tennessee Solar Institute
The Solar Institute starts out with the Solar Opportunity Fund, a $23.5-million grants program for innovation and installation of solar technology. The institute will help develop strategic partnerships throughout Tennessee, hold regional meetings to highlight the state’s solar industry, and provide technical resources and workforce development programs across the state. Ultimately, the institute will be a research center of excellence at UT and ORNL.

West Tennessee Solar Farm
Located alongside Interstate 40 in Haywood County, the solar farm will engage the solar industry by demonstrating emerging technology, as well as the public by offering educational outreach. Officials hope to complete installation of the solar array by the end of 2010 or early 2011.