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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 chartguy on 8/15/2010 2:58:14 PM , Rating: 2
Everything gets grants these days, just take fossil fuels, it gets around ten times more than renewables!

The so-called subsidies for fossil fuels are a joke. Typically the analysts do things like say that the pollution from burning coal has an economic cost (which they grossly inflate), and then call that a subsidy. They ignore the fact that a modern solar cell requires about half as much electricity to produce as it will generate in its lifetime. The pollution from making solar cells (and there's a lot more pollution generated making a solar cell than just the electricity consumed) is never included in those subsidy calculations.

Solar does work in many situations, but they tend to be cases where conventional sources are either distant (expensive to connect) or unreliable. That's why there are so many subsidies, because solar does not make economic sense without them.

A couple of facts:
Solar cells degrade over time, even if properly maintained (and maintenance costs never seem to find their way into the cost calculations). Most have guarantees of only 25 to 50 percent of their new capacity after 25 years.
They require batteries and inverters to be used. Besides the inefficiencies that process adds, the batteries are expensive and do not last very long. That's another cost that never gets included in the calculations.
Solar may be a great technology, but it is decades away from making economic sense in a free market.
Electric bills from the two utilities that subsidized this will be higher as a direct result. That will not help the Detroit-area economy.

RE: Good thing there are grants...
By Spuke on 8/16/2010 12:20:35 PM , Rating: 2
Solar cells degrade over time, even if properly maintained (and maintenance costs never seem to find their way into the cost calculations). Most have guarantees of only 25 to 50 percent of their new capacity after 25 years.
Actually, BP Solar's panels are warrantied for 85% of their initial capacity for 25 years. Kyocera warranties their panels at 80% for 20 years.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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