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.