General Motors is aiming to bolster its green credentials by installing a huge solar array that will be visible from the well-traveled Ohio Turnpike outside the company’s big assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
GM’s new 2.2 megawatt, ground-mounted solar array will be complete by the end of the year. When the last of more than 8,500 solar panels are in place, it will be GM’s largest solar installation in the Western Hemisphere, the maker claims – but not necessarily the largest sun-power system, producing just a fraction of the output of the solar park in use at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant.
GM has been adding solar arrays and waste-burning power generators at its assembly plants in the U.S. as part of a concerted effort to reduce costs and clean up the environment by eliminating waste and limiting the use of carbon-based fuel such as oil and coal.
Before the construction of the array outside the Lordstown plant, the company’s biggest solar project was at its Detroit-Hamtramck plants, home of the Chevrolet Volt, where GM erected a 264,000-square-foot array that generates up to 516 kilowatts of electricity. It helps charge the Volt plug-in hybrids before they are shipped to dealers.
The renewable energy produced by the Lordstown array is enough to power nearly 1.5% of the plant’s needs and helps avoid the equivalent of 1,993 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere annually, according to GM. That is equivalent to the amount of carbon pulled from the air by 1,634 acres of U.S. forests.
“With more solar installations than any other automotive company and the second-highest percentage of solar among all commercial users, GM shows that manufacturing and the use of renewable energy can go hand-in-hand.” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
This announcement comes nearly one year after announcing completion of the 1.8 megawatt solar array on the rooftop of GM’s Toledo Transmission facility, also in Ohio. That array is the largest rooftop array in the state, producing enough energy to power 149 homes in the United States for a year.
“You don’t often think of the Midwest when you think of ideal locations for solar, but reduced costs and increased utility rates have made sites like Lordstown and Toledo optimal locations to expand GM’s use of solar power,” said Rob Threlkeld, GM global manager of renewable energy. With the Lordstown project, GM says it is on track to meet a company goal of 125 megawatts of producing renewable energy.
The Solar Energy Industry Association, which named GM a “Solar Champion” last year, has released its Solar Means Business 2014 Report. GM is listed among the top 25 corporate users of solar power in the U.S. for the second consecutive year.
“We applaud General Motors for setting the pace when it comes to automotive manufacturing solar installations and deployment,” Resch said.
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More and more automakers are switching on solar power systems. Ford Motor Co. recently announced plans for a large array outside its headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. The project, funded by Detroit-based DTE Energy, will be mounted above 360 covered parking spaces and provide power for 30 charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles.
In 2010, the companies teamed up to install a 500 kW solar panel system at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne. Energy generated by the system helps power vehicle production.
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The biggest automotive solar system in the U.S., however, is operated by Volkswagen of America at its assembly plant in Chattanooga. It can produce a maximum 13.1 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power 1,200 typical homes – or about 12.5% of the energy needs of the sprawling complex where the maker assembles its midsize Passat model.
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VW and it sibling Audi brand operate a number of other solar arrays around the world.