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Innovation

Ford $5.8 million solar array will be one of Michigan's largest

Battery technology will also factory heavily in automaker's renewable energy investment.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Automaker Ford's Michigan Assembly plant is being outfitted with a 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that will be used to power the production of the company's next-generation fuel-efficient cars starting in 2011. Plans also call for the company to install a secondary system that will energize the facility's lighting systems.

Combined, the technology is expected to save about $160,000 annually in energy costs. But this is no small investment. The project is being funded with $3 million from Detroit Edison, a $2 million grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission and another $800,000 from Ford itself.

The Michigan Assembly is currently being used to create SUVs. Come next year, however, the site will be used to produce the new Focus and Focus Electric, as well as two other vehicles coming in 1012: a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid.

Here's the requisite comment from Jim Tetreault, who is Ford's vice president of North America Manufacturing:

"With this solar energy system, we will be able to gain vital understanding about the integration of renewable power, smart-grid technologies and energy storage at an industrial facility. This project is part of the transformation of Michigan Assembly from a large SUV factory to a modern, flexible, small car plant."

The other cool part of this installation is Ford is working with Detroit Edison to couple the solar technology with a 750-kilowatt storage system that will be able to store up to 2 million watt-hours of electricity. That's enough power to keep 100 "average" Michigan homes running for up to a year. The technology being used for storage is the Dynamic Power Resource power management system, which was developed by Xtreme Power of Austin, Texas. The idea is that when the plant is inactive, power being generated by the solar arrays can be collected and stored for later use in production. OR, when power is cheaper, the system can recharge off the conventional grid, which will help save Ford money in energy costs. So, this is a blended system.

Ford was inspired to work on this project as part of the Detroit Edison SolarCurrents program, which encourages the utility's customers to install solar technology. The goal over the next five years is to build generation capacity of 15 megawatts at sites distributed through southeast Michigan.

One last thing: Ford will create a demo facility for electric vehicle charging at this same site.

Ford uses renewable energy for about 3 percent of its total power needs today. This is the third plant to experiment with renewable energy technology. The Dagenham Diesel Center in the United Kingdom is running entirely off wind turbines, while the company's Bridgend Engine Plant in Wales uses a combination grid-connected solar photovoltaic technology.

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