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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 €62.4 billion (US$83.4 billion) worldwide plus an additional €14 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 €600 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 €636 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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What I do not find very environmentally friendly about this picture is that a forest full of life has been bulldozed to make space for this solar field that effectively has destroyed the life that were. Why did they not use 3 large 3Mega watt wind mills instead. Put them on 120 meter towers and the forest below could stay where it is and should always be. Life below could continue unharmed. Solar power should be limited to rooftop installations, desserts and other non-fertile areas. When solar is implemented by bulldozing forest it does much more harm than good. At least that is my opinion.

Dave R

Not a big fan of replacing forests with solar PV, either, but if you look at the history of the specific location using Google Earth, it appears that the area was used for logging and was nearly clear-cut around 10 years ago.

Then little was done (appears to have regrown somewhat naturally) through 2010 when it was cleared again.

It seems to me that with the factory roof-space available and the huge parking lots (for new cars and for factory workers) could have easily provided just as much if not more room solar PV and the current solar park could have been re-planted with native trees/plants and the nature preserve next to it expanded.

Of course, that probably would have been more expensive than a ground-mount system.


Big wind mills are bat killers. The drop in air pressure which occurs behind the airfoils ruptures their lungs. Windmills should only be situated in geographical areas which do not have a bat population.

How anyone who pretends to be a green be so environmentally insensitive is beyond me.


VW runs a hardnosed business and if solar energy is competitive near the Smokie Mountains, there should be more benefits/profits in deserts or non-transmission loss home systems.


More symbolic PR flapdoodle, to molify the Greenie nutcases. The insufficiency of the gesture is so great that it can generate only enough power for the factory when it is closed. BFD!

More proof that you can't run a world on greenie hopes and wishes.


9.5 MW can also power ~10,000 of those Greenie nutcases households that keep electing the US President.

9.5 MW can also power ~10,000 of those Greenie nutcases households....
... when the sun is shining.  IIUC Germany's capacity factor for PV is about 9%.

Ich liebe VW!

Kit P

Around Chattanooga

German Engineering = 7.6 MWe MWe solar with a 10 capacity factor

American Engineering = 2,333 MWe Sequoyah Nuclear Plant with a 90 capacity factor

“Sequoyah's two units have a winter net dependable capacity of 2,333 megawatts”
These plants will have at least another 30 years of life. For those who like passive features, there is a large ice condenser inside the containment.

“used for logging and was nearly clear-cut around 10 years ago ”

Not even close but lets give Dave R the clueless of the day award. This an industrial area near the interstate. It new plant is on the site of an ammunition plant going back to WWII.

“Plant was built on a brownfield property (former TNT manufacturing site) with no destruction of untouched nature.”

Both TVA and BPA were huge public works projects during the depression. As a result the excess power attracted defense industries.

“native trees/plants ”


“nature preserve next to it expanded. ”

The whole place is a nature preserve. From Northern Alabama to Lake Ontario, there is a 200 mile wide nature preserve. I live in a subdivision and have 40 huge trees. There is not shortage of trees and mountains. Athletic fields and tennis courts at high schools are a feat of civil engineering.

“if solar energy is competitive near the Smokie Mountains”

I have not found anyplace where solar is competitive. This solar facility should provide years of photo opportunities for the VW. It all depend on your taste. Personally I prefer a picture a sail boat in the fore ground of just about anything even a nuke plant.


The capacity works out at around 15.7% from the figures given, about right at that latitude.
That won't run 10,000 Greenie's or anyone else's houses.

I agree with the comments about the poor use of land.


Each month, the power company charges as large a bill as possible. One day, their pole transformer 'lost neutral' - result, 120VAC jumps toward 240VAC.

I have pictures of varying 140VAC readings at my main panel, the Ameren workers(and my electrician) stated it was poor Ameren transformer maintenance.

Every 120VAC PC, TV(with smoke), fridge, etc.. I owned was destroyed. By law, impartial third party arbitration settles disputes - but the "third party" rented/existed INSIDE the power company building.

After months of stalling, I was judged against and the power company paid NOTHING.

I then installed a small test solar system(no moving parts) that provides lighting, small appliance power, ~10 miles daily ebike charge and emergency backup power - with no problems so far, ~ 2 years.

I've helped install ~5kw home solar systems that were reimbursed($1.50/watt) by the power company(~20 year, 90% free home electricity), until the power company overturned the voter approved state legislation.

Meanwhile, each month, the power company sends as large a bill as possible.

But every building with solar exposure, PV, and maybe a little conservation can reduce or eliminate power company profits.

Power companies are not really our friends.


"SolarFuel’s process uses excess renewable energy generated as a result of Germany’s push to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. There’s now so much renewable energy in Germany that supply sometimes exceeds demand—such as when the wind is blowing late at night."


Yes, Kelly.  Now look at what that fuel costs.  You can use Germany's feed-in tariff rate as the cost of energy input to the system.


In many places, wind power has a capacity factor of close to 50%, specially when needed the most during cold windy winter days.

USA could add 60,000 to 80,000 mega-watt of hydro power that could be coupled with another 60,000 to 80,000+ mega-watt of wind power. Those two clean power sources are ideal companions and could supply enough e-power to close 200+ of the dirtiest coal fired power plants.

This new power mix would make electrified vehicles more interesting.


Sooner or later, none(PV)/one(per windmill) moving part electric power generation will prove most economic.

Sooner or later, one moving part, 90+% efficent EV electric motors/batteries will prove most economic.

If this hasn't already happened, it will during the decades of a electric system lifetime.


@ Kelly

Do you live in a Red State or a Blue State?

I live in Massachusetts which has a reputation for being a People's Republic. Last year we experienced a winter storm which took out the power of a large number of customers for several weeks. The power company was forced to pay big time in damages. In neighboring NH which prides itself in "Live Free or Die" their power company got away scott free. Could there possibly be some connection?


Mannstein, I'm in a Red state and my solar energy does not use Germany's feed-in tariff rate as the cost of energy input to the system.

It's said that our Public Service Commision(sets utility, phone, .. rates) is the best a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks can entertain.


Is that sung to the tune of:'Jerusalem?'
It is futile for the rest of us to give a rational critique of matters held as an article of faith.
Like the Children's Crusade though, those things do not always pan out as hoped for.

Kit P

“People's Republic ”

If only my tax bill was lower than my power bill. Power companies are public service companies. Somebody pays!

I the reason people like Mannstein and kelly do not make their own power is because they are not smart enough. They want everyone else to pay them a more than because to make electricity than the power company ignoring they do not know how to make it. Dumb!


Davemart, "It is futile for the rest of us to give a rational critique of matters held as an article of faith."

So, 'rest of us' including you - appearently without solar/renewable use or experience, are right - but VW, the country of Germany, and people who pay for, use, and know solar system costs for years are wrong?

"But every building with solar exposure, PV, and maybe a little conservation can reduce or eliminate power company profits." isn't all that revealing.

Your arguement is like Fox News declaring Mitt won - whatever the election results - past, present, or future.


I am currently paying for a collection of grifters, innumerates and ideologues to stick solar panels on their roofs in the UK, where there is a ten for one differential between summer and winter sun when the power is most needed.
So don't lecture me about 'experience'.

If you are one of the dead beats who have installed solar at the expense of other utility customers and taxpayers, and still bludge off the grid whilst not paying properly for its use, which for those using it only at low levels due to solar should be charged much more as it still has to be one, go and take some basic numeracy courses and please stop being so smug.


Come on people, insults are childish.



"I am currently paying for a collection of grifters, innumerates and ideologues to stick solar panels on their roofs in the UK.." means you had to grift/pay taxes and perhaps use the National Health Service, hence your solar power 'experience'?

I've used no US solar power government grants, though the long term costs of fossil fuel wars, pollution, climate change and healthcare multiply fuel 'up front' costs several times.

Carl Sagan noted that our livable atmosphere would be the scale of paint on a desk globe.

A single volcano "..dimmed sunlight so extensively that global temperatures fell by about 2°F (1°C) for 1 - 2 years afterward.

Why is it so hard to consider a hundred years of burning millions of years of plant remains damages our climate and weather? Or that solar energy use is a better deal?


Because solar, given its current cost and the cost of storage, simply cannot supply enough energy to avoid disaster in the near term.  The currently feasible alternative to coal, oil and gas isn't solar, it's nuclear.

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