A canopy of solar panels will be erected over part of the parking lot on the North Shore this spring to help power recharging stations for electric-powered cars parked near Coolidge Park.
The Smart Modal Area Recharge Terminal, or SMART station, will be capable of recharging up to six Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf or other electric-powered vehicles at one time. The test facility also will be able to make electricity from sunlight, store the power and then put electricity back on the power grid when needed.
"We want to be more green and visible in our community so we think this will be great to have on our parking lot," said George Quick, producing director for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, which owns the 200-space parking lot east of Coolidge Park. "Initially, there may not be a big demand for all of our recharging stations, but that could change over time."
The Tennessee Valley Authority is spending $2 million over the next four years to test Smart stations along with the Electric Power Research Institute across Tennessee. The prototype Smart station was installed a year ago in Oak Ridge and similar solar-powered recharging stations are planned this year in Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis.
"Consumers expect the infrastructure to be in place (before they drive electric vehicles)," said James Ellis, senior manger of transportation and infrastructure for TVA. "Around 10 percent of the consumers surveyed said they would buy a plug-in vehicle and these Smart stations will help us gather data on consumer usage and how this (solar-generated) power can be put back on the grid during peak demand periods."
The Smart stations include AC Level 2 rechargers, which can replenish a typical battery-powered car with enough every hour to add 10 to 12 miles more of driving range. Quick said motorists who park in one of the six spots with the Smart station rechargers will pay a higher parking fee, but they will be able to plug their vehicle into the rechargers and will be parked under the 40 elevated solar panels which will create covered parking spaces similar to the solar panels at Finley Stadium's parking lot.
John Halliwell, senior project manager for the Electric Power Research Institute in Oak Ridge, said construction should begin in March and the solar panels and rechargers should take about 60 days to install.
The solar panels will generate and store power which can be drawn from the batteries - and eventually even participating battery-powered cars - during hot summer afternoons when air conditioners push up TVA's electricity demand.
"If it is a hot day and TVA is experiencing a high demand, we can dispatch power from the batteries (charged by the solar panels) to help put needed power on the grid and help TVA avoid having to generate or buy more expensive power," Halliwell said.