Knoxville’s solar community shone even brighter than usual this past October 1st and 2nd when the city’s annual Solar Tour took place throughout the greater Knoxville area.
On Friday, October 1st, downtown Knoxville was alive with all kinds of First Friday events, one of which was the kick off of the Knoxville Solar Tour that included a Solar Fair in Krutch Park and reception at the S&W Grand restaurant. Then on Saturday, the city’s annual Solar Tour opened up homes and businesses throughout the region to present an opportunity for the public to learn about available solar technologies.
In all, this year’s Solar Tour demonstrates the continued success of Knoxville’s Solar America Cities Program and the growing commitment to developing the region’s abundant solar energy resources.
The first event of the weekend was a well-attended Solar Fair in Krutch Park in downtown Knoxville. This fair provided an opportunity for people to engage with solar installers and stakeholders, learn about solar energy technologies and interact with representatives of several key stakeholders in Knoxville’s solar market. In addition to solar installers, industry representatives, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB), Pellissippi State Community College, Knoxville Solar America Cities, and Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development (SEEED) were all represented.
Also on October 1st, solar tour site hosts and sponsors attended a reception at S&W Grand in downtown Knoxville. Solar enthusiasts mingled and enjoyed free beverages and hor d’ oeuvres, adding a sophisticated flair to the solar events of the weekend. This reception served to thank both the sponsors and those who were opening their doors to visitors for the solar tour, some of which have been doing so for as long as there has been solar in Knoxville.
The following morning, on Saturday, October 2nd, a solar workshop was held at Ijams Nature Center where Lauren Steier of SACE, and Jeff Christian and Norm Durfee of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) gave presentations. Lauren started with a basic Solar 101 and Jeff followed with an ORNL/TVA study about Campbell Creek Homes, a neighborhood of experimental houses designed to be highly energy efficient and integrate the use solar energy technologies. Norm closed with a review of solar deployment in the greater Knoxville area over the past three years.
As many of us know just by looking around, solar deployment in Knoxville has increased dramatically in the past three years. Before Knoxville was declared a Solar America City in 2007, the total installed solar was about 15 kilowatts (kW). Norm concluded that Knoxville now has over 1400 kW, which is about a 100 fold increase in solar energy! This rapid growth is, in part, due to the commitment by ORNL, Knoxville, KUB and TVA to make the Knoxville Solar America Cities program a success.
The highlight of this year’s Solar Tour, however, was the tour itself. After the solar workshop on Saturday morning, participants were invited to take a self-guided tour of 23 homes and businesses in Knoxville and the surrounding area, more than double the number of sites just 3 years ago. Sites ranged from small home installations of just a few kilowatts to the one-megawatt (MW) solar farm east of town where Memphis-based Sharp Solar’s 2-millionth solar panel was installed in August. Especially apparent this year was the increase in small businesses that have installed solar with the help from grants provided through the Tennessee’s Solar Institute. The solar installation and solar innovation grants provided by the Solar Institute have contributed significantly to an exponential growth of solar generating capacity across east Tennessee.
Tour sites provided examples of both solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems. Some of the highlights included: Stephen Smith’s home (Executive Director of SACE), the 1 Megawatt solar farm (largest in the TN Valley), Knoxville’s new Transit Center, and the Knox County Detention Center, which has one of the nation’s largest solar hot water systems.
Installers of the solar technologies showcased during the Solar Tour include:
- Big Frog Mountain,
- Efficient Energy of Tennessee (EETN),
- FLS Energy,
- Green Earth Solar,
- Lightwave Solar,
- Kemery Company, and
- Sustainable Future.
The talk has already begun about next year’s Solar Tour. Held the first weekend in October, we’re looking forward to an even greater event as solar continues to go mainstream in the Knoxville area.