Solar Industry in Tennessee

History of solar industry in Tennessee

Unknown to most people, solar industry was established in the Volunteer state well before solar energy deployment become locally popular.  On Oct. 16th, 2003, Sharp Corp., one of the largest solar manufacturing companies in the world, opened a solar panel manufacturing facility in Memphis, TN.  This facility assembles solar panels with various configurations for both commercial and residential installations and the solar panels are mostly supplied to the east and west coasts of US, which have the most demand for solar.  Another pioneer in Tennessee’s solar industry is AGC Flat Glass, a leader in providing innovative glass products for specialty applications, including solar products used in photovoltaics, greenhouse glazing, and both active and passive solar applications.

However, despite of the early development of solar manufacturers in the state, Tennessee is still lagging behind other parts of the country with regard to solar energy deployment, partially due to its traditionally strong coal and nuclear industries and some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation.  For instance, data from Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) shows that the cumulative capacity of PV installation up to 2008 is about 0.4 MW in Tennessee, as compared to 528 MW in California and 21.9 MW in New York.  In the City of Knoxville, there are only two medium sized PV systems by January 2008, the 15 KW system at Ijams Nature Center and the 8 KW system on the Mellow Mushroom restaurant.

Fortunately, 2007 was the year for change. In 2007, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) adopted a new strategic plan emphasizing energy efficiency and renewable energy and immediately began building capacity to meet these directives. Finally, in October 2007, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) co-organized the Southeast Solar Summit along with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), with sponsorship from TVA and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDECD).

Data was based on an informal survey that the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy (SACE) conducted to local installers in July 2009.

2009 is another great year for the solar industries in Tennessee. Early 2009, it was announced that Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. will build a $1.2 billion polycrystalline silicon plant in Clarksville and that Wackie Chemie AG will invest $1 billion in another polycrystalline silicon facility in Bradley County.  In addition, thanks to the federal Recovery Act funding, Governor Phil Bredesen called for spending up to $62.5 million to launch the Volunteer State Solar Initiative, composed by a 20-acre solar power generation farm in Haywood County with mega watts capacity and the Tennessee Solar Institute at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

In addition to government support and large manufacturer investment, local solar businesses are also growing.   For instance, at the beginning of the Knoxville Solar America Cities program, there has been only one NABCEP certified solar installer in the entire state for many years, but now there are at least three in Knoxville alone.  Furthermore, estimated annual PV installation in Tennessee for 2009 is 603 KW, more than four times of the number in 2008 (see the below figure).  Moreover, locally owned solar financing, equipment distribution and other solar service businesses are also blooming.  For a list of solar businesses in Tennessee, please click here. (Link to the “List of solar businesses in Tennessee” section.)

The sun is always bright and so is the prospect of solar industry. Let the sun continue to shine in Tennessee!