Thursday, January 24, 2013

Volkswagen inaugurates 9.5 MW solar park at Chattanooga plant in US; key element of VW Group's strategic sustainability targets

The 9.5 MW solar park at Chattanooga is owned and operated by Silicon Ranch; VW has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement. Click to enlarge.

Volkswagen inaugurated its largest solar facility in the world-also the largest solar facility operated by an automaker in the US-at its plant in Chattanooga, TN, which produces the Passat model for North America. The Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park has a peak output of 9.5 MW. The power will be used directly in production; solar power will provide up to 12.5% of the electric power required in full-capacity operation and 100% of demand when the plant is not in production.

The new solar park is an integral part of Volkswagen's worldwide sustainability strategy, which includes generating more power within the Group from renewable energy sources, said Volkswagen Group Officer for the Environment, Energy and New Business Areas, Wolfram Thomas.

The Volkswagen Group has set itself the goal of becoming the world's leading automaker in environmental terms by 2018. At the Geneva Motor Show in 2012, we stated specific, ambitious targets for our products, production and the group. We have adopted the most comprehensive approach possible. Clean cars from a clean factory and an attitude to the environment that aims to change the way of people's thinking.

Financially, we have laid the foundation for profitable sustainable growth. We have defined consistent CO2 reduction for the protection of the climate as a binding objective for the group. To do so, we have adopted a diversified strategy throughout the world. We are German, and we are thorough. All our 100 plants are to be environmentally optimized. All our plants are to become 25% more environmentally compatible.

The main focus is to include increasingly efficient production as well as increasing energy supplies to all plants. VW is also an energy supplier that generates a growing share of the power needed for the group. We are increasing the share of green energy in a modular way. The new solar park here is a further green module in this strategy, and will make production at the plant more sustainable in the future.

-Wolfram Thomas, at the solar park launch event

In Germany, the Volkswagen Group provides 62% of its own power, with more to come, Thomas said. Czech-based Skoda generates 73% of its power, with a renewable share of 23%. SEAT in Spain, with an 8MW solar array, generates 56% of its own power. (Thomas was Executive Vice-President for Production of SEAT before assuming the Group environmental role.)

Volkswagen sustainability targets. At the Geneva show in 2012, Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Volkswagen Group Board of Management, laid out the group's sustainability targets. These included:

  • The Volkswagen Group will be investing ‚Ǩ62.4 billion (US$83.4 billion) worldwide plus an additional ‚Ǩ14 billion (US$19 billion) in China during the period to 2016. More than two-thirds of this investment program will be spent directly or indirectly on ever more efficient vehicles, powertrains and technologies as well as environmentally compatible production at Group plants.

  • CO2 emissions by the European new vehicle fleet will be reduced by some 30% during the period from 2006 to 2015-emissions will be below the threshold of 120 grams CO2/km for the first time by 2015.

  • Every new model generation will on average be 10 to 15% more efficient than its predecessor.

  • There is to be a 25% improvement in the environmental compatibility of production in the Volkswagen Group by 2018-i.e., 25% less energy and water consumption, waste and emissions.

  • 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions associated with production-related energy supplies by 2020.

  • Some ‚Ǩ600 million is to be invested in expanding the use of renewable energies such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power. (At the launch event at Chattanooga, Thomas put the figure at $850 million, or ‚Ǩ636 million.)

The Chattanooga Solar Park. The solar installation at Volkswagen Chattanooga confirms the awarding of the LEED Platinum certification to VW by the US Green Building Council in late 2011. At that time, the Building Council called the Chattanooga manufacturing facility "the world's greenest auto plant" and noted it was the first automotive manufacturing plant in the world to receive the top LEED certification. Today, the Chattanooga plant remains the only auto plant worldwide to earn the LEED Platinum certification.

The Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park occupies 33 acres, or half of the 66-acre land parcel adjacent to VW's plant. The solar park contains 33,600 polycrystalline solar panels (each rated at 285 watts) from JA Solar designed to produce 13.1 gigawatt hours of electricity per year-equivalent to the energy consumed annually by around 1,200 homes in the area. The modules are mounted on a Unirac racking system, with a fixed angle at 25° tilt.

Ten SMA inverters and 5 transformers (rated at 1500 KVA each) convert the 9.58 MW of DC power to 7.6 MW of AC power connected to VW's substation. There are 3,360 panels per inverter made up of 168 strongs at 20 modules per string.

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.

Mobilization took place in July 2012, and power started to be generated in November 2012.

Volkswagen Chattanooga. Volkswagen has invested about $1 billion in the facility. In December 2011, the plant received a platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification program.

Aspects of the plant that earned LEED recognition include:

  • Superior insulation provided by six inches of mineral rock wool, resulting in 720,000 Kilowatts per year savings.

  • Green power from the local hydroelectric dam.

  • Use of LED lighting on the exterior results in 68% less energy used, up to 262,500 kWh per year and a reduction in light pollution. (T5 fluorescents are use don the inside.)

  • Rainwater collected and reused to flush toilets and cool the welding machines.

  • White roof membrane is highly reflective, minimizing heat island effect by up to 50¬∞F.

  • Natural flowing creeks to capture heavy rains and restore a natural habitat.

  • Low-flow water fixtures and no-touch sensors throughout the plant reduce water usage by 30%.

  • Plant was built on a brownfield property (former TNT manufacturing site) with no destruction of untouched nature. Protected 100 ft. wide creeks and wetlands were established to create natural habitats with low impact on natural habitats.

The adjacent Volkswagen Academy was also certified by USGBA as a Platinum LEED facility. The primary purpose of the Volkswagen Academy is to prepare new employees for work at the Volkswagen plant. In conjunction with Chattanooga State and Tennessee Tech, the Academy also offers an Industrial Technology degree and an apprenticeship program.

The Chattanooga plant is being used as a blueprint for three other Volkswagen plants: two in China, and one in Mexico.

Volkswagen hosted Green Car Congress for the inauguration of the solar park.


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