Archive for February 19, 2014

Shine a light: Solar array latest ‘cutting-edge’ project at UT-Baptist Research Park in Memphis

index Memphis Bioworks will install by April 12 about 3,000 solar panels atop its parking garage at Union and Dudley.

The 2.3-acre installation is designed not only to generate 750 kilowatts, but also to burnish the image of UT-Baptist Research Park as a clean-tech, cutting-edge place for companies to locate, said Dr. Steve Bares, president and executive director of Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

“This isn’t just about solar for us; it is also about positioning the UT-Baptist Research Park as a progressive leader in science of sustainability through such things as the intelligent use of space…,” Bares said.

The solar project is the most visible of several projects making the research park more environmentally friendly.

Memphis Bioworks recently completed a $162,535 project to upgrade the lights in the same parking garage to LED lights, which use less electricity and last longer.

Also, two charging stations for electric vehicles have been installed at the entrance to the parking garage.

And new bike racks have been placed at its headquarters next to the parking garage.

The nonprofit Memphis Bioworks is leading the development of UT-Baptist Research Park, the focus of the city’s biomedical economic development.

The parking garage has three levels totaling 917 spaces.

The solar array on top will sacrifice only a couple of parking spaces; the panels will be raised high enough that vehicles can park beneath them, in the shade of the panels.

The solar panels will be purchased from Memphis-based Sharp Manufacturing.

The project’s financing is similar to Agricenter International’s deal to build its 1-megawatt solar array, which is also to be completed by April.

Nashville-based Silicon Ranch, founded by former governor Phil Bredesen, will finance construction, own the system and sell the power to Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division for the first 10 years.

After 10 years, Memphis Bioworks will have the option to purchase the solar installation from Silicon Ranch.

The Agricenter’s project is like a solar farm, with the panels planted on about five acres of ground.

Bioworks is different, fitting the array into the densely developed urban core, over parked cars and across from a Walgreens.

“With our installation,” said Allan Daisley, Bioworks’ director of innovation and sustainability initiatives, “we will demonstrate an effective urban solar deployment and expect to gain experience that is then applicable to other deployments across the city.”

The solar panels should be visible to the many motorists passing by on Union Avenue, Daisley said.

Bioworks may work with an urban designer to enhance the way the installation looks from the street, Bioworks spokeswoman Regina Whitley said.

Its appearance could be a concern if the project isn’t done right, indicated Beth Flanagan, director of the Memphis Medical Center.

“You’re not going to miss it,” she said of motorists’ views. “It’s pretty tall off the top of the decks.”

She doesn’t necessarily want the solar panels screened from view. But she said, “Just make it look cool. Don’t make it look like a big piece of steel.”

The parking garage once served the massive Baptist Memorial Hospital. The research park is emerging where the hospital stood, before demolition.

Since the research park is still in its infancy, only about 40 percent of the garage is typically used, Bares said.

But across the Memphis Medical Center, parking is in high demand. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and hospitals have arrangements with Bioworks to allow their employees to use the parking garage, even though it’s on the south end of the district.

The garage will be used even more as the research park gains more tenants, Bares said.

A spat between the United States and China threatens the future of solar power.

140212_TECH_ChinaSolarPanels.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeSolar power is an environmentalist’s dream, but for decades it was too expensive to be practical. In the past few years, that has finally been changing. Americans are signing up in droves to put panels on their roofs, not only for the good of the climate, but because—once you factor in government incentives—it’s often cheaper than conventional electricity, especially in sunny states. That was unimaginable only 10 years ago.

The boom has been fueled by cheap solar panels from China, which has been heavily subsidizing solar manufacturing. The glut has been good not only for American customers, but for U.S. companies that install solar panels. Startups like Sunrun and the Elon Musk–backed SolarCity have grown explosively by installing Chinese-made panels on U.S. homes and businesses, often through financing mechanisms that require no money down.* As a result, the solar industry has been a bright spot in the U.S. economy, with jobs growing by 20 percent a year. It now employs 140,000 Americans and counting, and is one of the few sectors in which President Obama’s promise of “green jobs” has actually materialized.

But the good times could be coming to an end. It’s not that China is cutting off the supply of cheap panels. It’s that the United States is threatening to slap new tariffs on them that could sharply drive up the price. It would also likely prompt China to retaliate with more duties on U.S.-manufactured polysilicon, a key ingredient in those panels.

The push comes from America’s small and struggling domestic solar-panel manufacturing industry, which can’t compete with the discounted wares from China. Ironically, it’s a German-owned firm, SolarWorld AG, whose U.S. division is lobbying for the federal government to protect it from foreign rivals. On the other side are U.S. solar panel installers that rely on Chinese goods. As analyst Eric Wesoff once joked, one side is wearing an American flag over a German flag, and the other has an American flag draped over a Chinese flag.

The U.S. is justified in wanting to ensure that China isn’t just flooding the market in order to corner it. But it would be far better served by addressing the problem through negotiation than a new round of punitive duties. That’s what the European Union did in a similar case against China, which it settled last year without irreparable harm to any of the parties concerned. China itself appears perfectly willing to pick up the phone. Why hasn’t Obama?

Vanderbilt, MTSU teams to compete in Solar Decathlon

solarfoundationVanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University will participate in the U.S. Energy Department’s Solar Decathlon 2015, competing against 19 other college teams to build solar-powered and energy-efficient houses.

Through Solar Decathlon 2015, students will design and construct houses that will be judged on affordability, consumer appeal, design excellence and energy efficiency. The student teams will reassemble the homes at the competition site at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif., to be judged in fall 2015.

Students in construction management; interior design; and electrical, mechanical and civil engineering will be involved in the planning, designing and building processes, which will lead to constructing a home that is greater than 600 square feet but less than 1,000 square feet in size. The home initially will be built on the Vanderbilt campus.

The competition was created in 2002, and until 2013 it was held he National Mall in Washington, D.C. Homes made through the decathlon are located throughout the U.S. and in countries around the world, including Spain, China and Belgium.

Mississippi is the “sunshine state” for TVA

Where are the best spots to build solar power in the Tennessee Valley Authority? It turns out, many of them are in Mississippi!

We recently obtained 16 years of simulated solar power production data from Clean Power Research for the Tennessee Valley Authority region, looking at 26 sites scattered from east to west, and north to south in the region. It turns out that the best sites are in the western part of TVA, which isn’t surprising since the sun sets later in the west, and TVA needs power most towards the end of the day.

We were a little surprised to see a site in Kentucky make our “Top 10″ solar sites list, since most people tend to think of solar as a resource that performs better as you move south. Turns out that western Kentucky is plenty sunny!
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Tennessee Solar Industry Said to be Expanding

A new report says Tennessee’s solar industry is expanding quickly.

The Solar Foundation says there are now more than 130 companies in the state dedicated to solar manufacturing, installation and project development.

Foundation spokesman Philip Haddix says that, nationwide, solar-industry employment grew by almost 20-percent since 2012 to reach 242,000 jobs across the U-S; and locally.

“Tennessee is up as well with 2,800 jobs this year versus 2,300 last year – 500 additional jobs. It puts Tennessee tied for 12th place if you were to rank the states in terms of their solar employment.”

Haddix says about half of all solar jobs are in installation, with manufacturing the next biggest sector.