The future of solar power is now (and it has Solvay’s name on it)
Solvay ranked in top 10 by Solar Energy Industries Association
To meet its ambitious objectives in terms of carbon emission reductions, Solvay champions both saving energy and sourcing more renewable power. One initiative in the latter field is a new form of partnership with a large solar farm built in South Carolina. Thanks in part to it, as of 2018, Solvay ranked 9th in the US with the most solar capacity installed, according to a report put together by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Solvay is the only manufacturing company to make the top 10 list, which includes companies such as Apple, Amazon and Target.
“Solvay Solar Energy, Jasper County SC” solar farm is a 900-acre, 71-megawatt facility south of Charleston, South Carolina. These figures might seem a little abstract, so let’s put things this way: this expanse of solar panels covers an area equivalent to 500 football (soccer) fields and provide enough power for 15,000 households – or 164,000 MWh a year, offsetting approximately 80,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This makes it the largest solar farm in a region where the sub-tropical climate suffers no shortage of hot sun.
Green certificates galore
So, what is Solvay’s involvement here? The company is purchasing 100% of the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) produced by the solar farm over the course of the next 15 years. Such a commitment from the early stages of the project contributed to making it a reality, thus increasing renewable power production in a region where Solvay has a significant footprint.
RECs are a concept that bears explaining. The main thing a solar plant produces is obviously megawatt hours of electricity; but it also generates environmental benefits for producing them from clean, renewable energy. These environmental attributes, duly certified by an independent third party, become Renewable Energy Certificates, which can be purchased by a different customer than the one who buys the electricity itself.
In South Carolina, a regulated energy market, the two local utilities are solely entitled to purchase power and sell it to end users, so Solvay didn’t have the option of buying the solar farm’s electrical output. Purchasing the RECs is a way of sourcing renewable power and increasing its share in the local energy mix – RECs are generally only valid within the electrical grid of the region or country of production: a factory in India couldn’t purchase RECs from a wind farm in Denmark, for instance.
Local plants and turtles
This solar farm was the first time Solvay has ever been involved in such a project. The company having set the objective of a 40% reduction of the carbon intensity of its operations by 2025, Solvay Energy Services, the group’s Global Business Unit in charge of energy matters, is constantly on the lookout for sources of green power.
The United States, where Solvay conducts a large share of its electricity purchases and where power is still highly carbonated, was the logical first place to act. Talks with Dominion, the American energy company that built the Jasper County solar farm, began to that end in 2016. The location also made sense, as Solvay runs several facilities in the southwestern US (Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina). In fact, the company’s Charleston plant is only 60 miles from the solar farm.
In addition to Solvay’s own carbon reduction objectives, getting involved in this project is also a way to respond to growing customer demand for products manufactured with renewable energy. The pressure from the public on some of the Group’s high profile customers acts as a positive force pushing in that direction. The end goal, as confirmed by Solvay’s CEO, is “to exclusively use renewable energy for the provision of products to key customers”. The Jasper County solar farm is a big step in that direction.
Last but not least, part of the project’s area is devoted to a 450-acre gopher tortoise preserve. Gopher tortoises are a local species of turtle, and a colony of over 100 of them, one of the largest in the state, will thus be permanently protected.