NASHVILLE — The University of Tennessee will join Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority as a partner in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposed Volunteer State Solar Initiative announced today.
UT and ORNL will be home to The Tennessee Solar Institute, one of two projects in the proposed $62.5-million initiative subject to U.S. Department of Energy approval.
The Tennessee Solar Institute would receive $31 million of that funding to focus on basic research to improve solar product affordability and efficiency.
Also proposed in the initiative is the West Tennessee Solar Farm near Brownsville. This five-megawatt 15-acre power generation facility at the Haywood County industrial mega site will serve as a demonstration tool for educational, research and economic-development purposes.
“Together, UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have an unmatched collection of resources and assets,” said UT Acting President Jan Simek. “It’s exciting to consider what we may be able to achieve -– for this state, for Tennesseans, and for the energy economy -– by putting all of these extraordinary resources to work.”
“With our statewide mission and reach, we are especially proud that UT is helping bring economic development and opportunity to Haywood County in rural West Tennessee,” he said.
ORNL Director Thom Mason added, “Tennessee is taking advantage of a unique opportunity to become a national leader in the solar industry. By leveraging all of the state’s assets on the single goal of making solar energy more affordable, there is a good chance that the Solar Institute will help bring even more jobs to Tennessee.”
Funding for the proposed comprehensive solar energy and economic development program would come from federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to advance job creation, education, research, and renewable-power production in Tennessee.
The UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Advanced Materials will be home to the Tennessee Solar Institute. The Joint Institute for Advanced Materials will anchor and will be the first building on the University’s new Cherokee Farm innovation campus. Construction on the previously funded, 132,000-square-foot building is expected to begin in late summer or early fall of 2009.
The Tennessee Solar Institute will take advantage of world-class DOE research assets housed at ORNL, including the Spallation Neutron Source, Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and the world’s most powerful supercomputers. It also will take advantage of existing UT faculty with expertise in materials science, of which solar energy research is a discipline. The institute will employ graduate research scholars, postdoctoral fellows and support staff.
Scientists and researchers from UT and ORNL will be engaged in research at the institute to improve the conversion of solar energy into electricity and to increase the capacity of key technologies for storing electrical energy.
In addition to supporting the Solar Institute’s research mission, the Solar Farm will serve as an educational site for students and the public. The farm, which will be located on a site to be determined along Interstate 40, will be Tennessee’s largest solar installation to date and one of the largest in the Southeast. Demonstrating the zero-carbon production of electricity on a highly visible and significant scale could encourage future renewable-energy interest and investments.
Simek added, “We are excited to be part of this proposed initiative, which I believe represents our looking ahead to see the opportunity to make Tennessee a leader.”