In December 2011, the Volkswagen plant near Chattanooga, TN was certified LEED Platinum. That's a difficult level to reach – as we described at the time – but the one billion dollars the company spent there fit snugly into the VW corporate storyline: we're going to make cleaner cars at cleaner plants. We're going to reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent (between 2006 and 2015). We're going to make sure our production facilities are 25 percent more "environmentally compatible." We're going to Think Blue.

"No other factory, so far, has achieved the Platinum reward."

Today, VW made good on one important piece of its LEED Platinum promise: generating its own clean energy. The huge new solar park that was turned on today was always part of the Chattanooga plan, but its official start marks one more way that VW is at the forefront when it comes to building cars cleanly. As Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Group of America, Chattanooga Operations, put is, "No other factory, so far, has achieved the Platinum reward. The solar park represents the last milestone that we have to take. We promised to build the solar park, and now it will start to run."

Located just a short bus ride away from the factory, the 65-acre solar park (33 of which are the solar panels themselves) is the largest single array in Tennessee. It is also the largest solar park at a US auto factory. It is made up of 33,600 individual solar panels that together generate 9.58 megawatts of DC power (that's at the panels, it's 7.6 MW of AC power going into the plant) and 13.1 gigawatt hours of electricity a year. That's 12.5 percent of the plant's power needs. In CO2 terms, this means emissions are reduced by 6,675 tons a year, or the amount that 360 average US homes would generate.

VW currently builds the Passat in Tennessee, and last year – the first year of full operation – the company built 152,546 vehicles there, beating the target of 145,000. While most of these are sold in the US, some are exported to our North American neighbors as well as South Korea and the Middle East. The solar park is international as well, since VW partnered with Phoenix Solar, a German solar company with operations around the world, and Silicon Ranch.

When we first visited VW's Chattanooga facility, the message we were left with was that the global automaker was going to use lessons learned in the rolling hills of Hamilton County in other plants around the world. Today, VW called the plant a "benchmark and a role model," and said that energy-saving techniques like lighting optimization, heat recovery and base load reduction would be implemented in VW plants in places like Yizheng, China and Silao, Mexico.

Wolfram Thomas, Group Chief Officer for the Environment, Energy and New Business Areas, said today that, "All our 100 plants are to be environmentally optimized. All our plants must become 25 percent more environmentally compatible." We look forward to seeing how this all plays out, wherever the sun shines.
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Volkswagen Chattanooga Powers Up Largest Solar Park in Tennessee
  • Biggest solar installation at a U.S. auto factory is going into operation
  • Think Blue. Factory: 9.5 Megawatt solar system to provide 12.5 percent of electric energy to Volkswagen's LEED Platinum-certified manufacturing plant in Chattanooga
  • Silicon Ranch, Phoenix Solar partner to build and operate Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park
CHATTANOOGA, TENN, January 23, 2013 - Volkswagen today "powered up" the largest single solar installation at an automotive manufacturing facility in the United States and the biggest solar installation in the state of Tennessee. At a dedication ceremony here, dignitaries today flipped a giant light switch to signal the official opening of the "Volkswagen Chattanooga Solar Park", built on Volkswagen's compound in Chattanooga.

The solar installation at Volkswagen Chattanooga confirms the awarding of the highly-coveted LEED Platinum certification to VW by the U.S 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 state-of-the-art manufacturing plant. The solar park contains 33,600 solar modules 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 electricity produced from the solar park is expected to meet 12.5 during non-production periods. The plant covers 1.9 million square feet and employs more than 3,000 people who manufacture the highly-acclaimed 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% 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.

Silicon Ranch (www.siliconranch.com), 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. (www.phoenixsolar.com), the U.S. subsidiary of Phoenix Solar AG (www.phoenixsolar-group.com), provided engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services in building the solar park over the last six months.

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," he said, "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." Mr. Fischer added, "Powering up the solar park also validates the awarding of the LEED Platinum certificate to Volkswagen Chattanooga, which is still the only car factory in the world that has earned such an honor."

Matthew Kisber, Silicon Ranch President and CEO, said, "We're proud to partner with VW on this important project. Today's 'Power Up' launch not only greatly enhances the energy efficiency of VW's Chattanooga plant and reaffirms its place as a true global environmental leader, but it also symbolizes 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."

Dr. Murray Cameron, Chief Operating Officer of Phoenix Solar AG and President of U.S.-based Phoenix Solar Inc., said, "Phoenix Solar Inc. is extremely proud to have designed and built the largest solar electric photovoltaic (PV) plant in Tennessee for such a prominent global company. This project adds to our extensive list of large-scale solar installations across Europe, the Middle East and North America which are supplying cost-effective and clean electricity to a vast variety of commercial companies and utilities." Dr. Cameron added, "What is particularly unique and exciting about this solar power plant is that Volkswagen has coupled clean electricity with energy efficiency measures in the factory to showcase how industry can make an immediate and positive contribution to protecting the environment."


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