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Ford Motor Company's Michigan Assembly Plant  (Source: Ford Motor Company)
500 kw installation is estimated to save $160,000 a year; Ford is only paying about 13 percent of costs

Along Michigan Avenue, a parking lot sits abandoned in the city of Detroit.  No longer used for events, the vacant space has little purpose for now.  Soon, however, it will be transformed into a miniature power plant providing electricity to Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Company's Michigan Assembly Plant.

Xtreme Power, an Austin-based energy solutions firm, is partnering with utility DTE Energy's Michigan subsidiary Detroit Edison to roll out the solution.  Alongside the 500 kilowatts worth of panels will be a battery storage facility which will soak up 2 million watt-hours of energy to dispense when needed.

The partnership with Ford is certainly eye catching -- after all, the Michigan Assembly Plant is the former SUV assembly plant that is being converted to produce the plug-in Ford Focus Electric Hybrid which will go on sale next year.  Ford plans to build more electric models at the plant in the future.

Jeff White, electricity supply manager for Ford North America, comments, "Our Michigan Assembly plant is going to be the next-generation vehicle center of the universe for next year or so. It just makes sense to bring this solar project to (the plant) so we can better understand how sustainable energy is developed."

Despite that optimism, there are some caveats to the plan.  First, the installation won't produce enough electricity to actually 
power the plant's heavy machines.  Instead it will be devoted to supplying lower power devices like the plant's lighting.  Using ten on-site charging stations, it will also charge electric trucks that will transport parts to the facility.

These small contributions will definitely add up.  Ford expects to save $160,000 USD a year.

Considering that, the installation is a very good deal for Ford -- especially when the installation costs are considered.  Overall the facility will cost $5.8M USD to build, but Ford is only paying $800,000 USD -- roughly 13 percent of the total costs.  The Michigan Public Service Commission will pick up $2M USD of the bill via grants, and Detroit Edison will pay for $3M USD of the project.  

The new station will be funded by Detroit Edison under the Solar Currents program.  Detroit Edison has been encouraging customers to voluntarily pay a small premium on their electric bills to support green power, which is likely where some of this funding arises from.  The plant produces enough electricity to power 100 homes.  While Ford will likely consume some of this, Detroit Edison may pump some of it to consumers, as well.

The installation isn't Ford's first alternative energy collaboration.  In Germany and the UK, solar and wind installations provide power to Ford facilities.  Globally, Ford spends $9M USD a year on energy and only 3 percent comes from renewable sources.

One promising possibility would be for Ford to seek partnerships to build small nuclear power plants near its production facilities.  Such a plant would be more affordable than wind or solar installations and 
could produce enough power to operate industrial machinery.  Ford has announced no plans to push for such an installation, as of yet, unfortunately.

In related news, Ford is selling its shuttered Wixom, Michigan plant to Xtreme Power and Clairvoyant Power of Santa Barbara, Calif.  The pair will retool the plant to produce solar and battery equipment.  The plant could employ 4,300 in unemployment-stricken Michigan.  It's still struggling to find financing, though, which puts its status up in the air.

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RE: Good thing there are grants...
By jscott14 on 8/13/2010 4:14:30 PM , Rating: 2
I wasn't dogging the technology itself. I think solar tech is clearly promising. I was just probably stating the obvious with the "not ready for primetime" comment. It's much like early SSDs as hard drive replacements (of which I was an early adopter)... the cost per GB was horrendous. They were also not ready for prime time.
The "good thing there are grants" comment wasn't a put-down. Much like SSDs (and other promising tech), it takes early adopters to help the technology mature and become ready for prime time.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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