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Chinese PV powers largest automotive solar park in the US

JA Solar supplies 33,600 PV modules for Volkswagen’s 33-acre solar plant in Tennessee

The Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park occupies 33 acres of land in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chinese PV technology has been used to power the largest solar installation at an automotive manufacturing facility in the US. China’s JA Solar has supplied 33,600 PV modules for Volkswagen’s 33-acre solar park in Chattanooga, which is also the biggest solar installation in the state of Tennessee. The automotive firm’s solar park went into operation this week.

The solar modules from JA Solar are designed to produce 13.1GWh of electricity per year. This is equivalent to the energy consumed annually by around 1,200 homes in the area.

The electricity produced from the solar park is expected to meet 12.5 per cent of the energy needs of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga manufacturing plant during full production and 100 per cent during non-production periods.

The Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park is half of the 66-acre land parcel adjacent to VW’s manufacturing plant. The plant covers 1.9 million square feet and employs more than 3,000 people who manufacture the Volkswagen Passat sedan. For Volkswagen, the solar park in Chattanooga will rank as the automaker’s largest photovoltaic installation worldwide.

Unlike some companies that install solar facilities in order to sell electricity back to utilities, VW will consume 100 per cent of the electricity generated from the polycrystalline solar modules mounted on a Unirac racking system. Ten SMA inverters will convert the solar energy from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) to be used to power the electrical installations in the manufacturing plant.   

Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Group of America, Chattanooga Operations LLC, said, “We are proud to power up the biggest solar park of any car manufacturer in North America today. The solar park is another proof point of Volkswagen’s worldwide commitment to environmental protection under its ‘Think Blue. Factory’ philosophy, a broadly focused initiative for all Volkswagen plants to achieve more efficient use of energy, materials and water and produce less waste and emissions.”

Silicon Ranch, which develops and operates solar energy solutions tailored to meet its customers’ needs, will own the solar park and sell the electricity to Volkswagen under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Phoenix Solar Inc, the US subsidiary of Phoenix Solar AG, provided engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services in building the solar park over the last six months.

Matthew Kisber, Silicon Ranch president and CEO, said, "Today's ‘Power Up’ launch symbolises the beginning of a new era in manufacturing operations throughout the region and worldwide. The scope of this solar park and the breadth of how much of the sun's energy will be harnessed here will most certainly have a powerful and lasting positive impact on both our environment and our economy."

Powering car manufacturing plants with solar power is becoming a big focus for automotive firms in the BRICS. This includes Chinese automobile firm Shanghai Aerospace Automobile Electromechanical, which was given approval to develop solar power plants totalling 18MW in China in October 2012.