AUGUST 31, 2017—It happened Tuesday, just before dawn. At the flip of a switch, TVA began generating solar energy—approximately 1 megawatt worth—at its newly built midscale solar array in Memphis, located inside the Allen Natural Gas Plant project site.
Dan Tibbs, general manager of Major Projects at TVA, describes the scope of the $1.3 million installation: “The array is comprised of 3,116 panels, each one generating up to 320 watts… enough renewable energy to power about 120 homes.”
This time-lapse video shows how over the course of roughly three months, more than 3,000 solar panels were installed at TVA's Allen Natural Gas Plant near Memphis, Tenn. Right click to download video (64mb).
The Allen installation is TVA’s first foray into sizable, self-constructed solar; heretofore, the company has mostly purchased solar power from third parties (totaling about 400 MWs), or constructed only small demonstration installations.
Hence, TVA stands to gain much from this new project, according to Stephen Noe, manager of Midscale Renewables. “We’ll gain first-hand experience of what it’s like to operate and maintain solar panels over time,” he explains. “We’ll have the chance to work with new, smart inverters [which translate the DC energy produced by solar cells into usable AC energy] and experiment with them to provide voltage support and other things. And we’ll learn about the true cost of ownership.”
The upshot? “It will give us a better idea of how TVA will choose to integrate solar into its portfolio in the future,” Noe says. That’s critical, as TVA expects to spend $8 billion dollars on renewable generation over the next 20 years.
Meanwhile, looking at the Allen properties as a whole, you can clearly see a reflection of TVA’s evolving generation portfolio in action, suggests Tibbs. “We are transitioning from the Allen Fossil Plant, which we will close in 2018, to a cleaner-burning gas plant,” he says. “And we have successfully integrated two renewable projects into the new gas plant’s design: the solar array, and a 5 megawatt biogas project.”
Altogether, by the end of 2018, Allen will be a diverse site producing enough clean energy to power approximately 2,900 average homes. It’s a logical conclusion, Tibbs says: “Our generation is simply evolving with an ever-changing world and consumer demands.”