Solar project touted as world’s largest

Billed as the largest installation of solar-thermal heating-and-cooling technology in the world, a project is underway to install 640 solar panels atop the roof of the Fletcher Business Park to heat water and heat and cool the sprawling facility.

The project will include a 27,000-gallon water tank, 2.5 miles of steel piping and tubing, and the solar panels, which will be erected on the 900,000 square foot facility’s huge roof. Once home to Steelcase, an office-furniture manufacturer, the Fletcher Business Park is now home to 20 businesses and 250 employees. The vast array is expected to produce 1.5 megawatts of power.

The project coincides with the announcement Thursday that Appalachian Energy, a homegrown business specializing in solar projects, has been acquired by Vanir Energy, a subsidiary of the Vanir Group of Companies, a large national construction firm. The company also performs real estate development and construction management work. The new company has hired 58 contract workers to complete the installation, which has been verified as the world’s largest by the International Energy Agency.

Vanir Energy’s entry into North Carolina will trigger a total of $14 million in solar-thermal projects across the state in 2009 alone, according to a company press release. The company plans to own and operate the systems it installs, enabling customers to take advantage of the technology without having to make a capital expenditure.

Steve Hunter, Vanir’s Sacramento, Calif.-based chief operating officer, said his company’s ability to finance projects at no up-front capital cost means, “We can fix the cost of energy for a customer for the next 20 years,” he says — a highly attractive proposition for everything from prisons and hospitals to schools and office buildings.

Scott Clark, the CEO of Appalachian Energy and now executive vice president of Vanir Energy, said the new company advances his goal of helping to create local jobs while moving solar projects into the mainstream of energy production.

The project is the latest in a wave of big solar thermal and solar photovoltaic installations either planned or completed in Western North Carolina in recent months. A number of factors have contributed to shifting solar energy from what many have considered an experimental, fringe phenomenon to a more mainstream energy source. A 2007 state law is pushing utilities in North Carolina to start deriving a specified percentage of their demand through renewable sources or increased energy efficiency. Substantial state and federal tax credits also loom large in the equation. Meanwhile, technological advances, rising energy costs (Progress Energy just announced a 10 percent rate hike effective Dec. 1), widespread concern about global warming and creative marketing strategies have all helped illuminate the potential of sun power.

For more on this story, see Wednesday’s Mountain Xpress.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Solar project touted as world’s largest

  1. Dionysis

    A good move. Just recently, Spain began an innovative solar power operation:

    “Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a gritty, working-class town outside Barcelona, has placed a sea of solar panels atop mausoleums at its cemetery, transforming a place of perpetual rest into one buzzing with renewable energy.

    Flat, open and sun-drenched land is so scarce in Santa Coloma that the graveyard was just about the only viable spot to move ahead with its solar energy program. The power those 462 panels produce — equivalent to the yearly use by 60 homes — flows into the local energy grid for normal consumption.

    The cemetery hold the remains of about 57,000 people, and the solar panels cover less than 5% of the total surface area. They cost $900,000 to install and each year, will keep about 62 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, Serret said.

    The community’s leaders hope to erect more panels and triple the electricity output, Fogue said. Before this, the town had four other solar parks — atop buildings and such — but the cemetery is, by far, the biggest.”

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.