Going Green for a Digital Future in Southern Tennessee

Ulteig Project Profile: New solar energy farm near Elora, Tennessee, features an optimized design by Ulteig

Elora, Tennessee — Tennessee is known for many things—its bourbon, BBQ, Goo Goo Clusters, Moon Pies, Graceland and the Grand Ole Opry—but one thing it’s not, is solar power.

Until now.

Near a small farming town in southern Tennessee, Ulteig designed and engineered what may be the largest solar power center in the state. Located on more than 1,700 acres near the Tennessee-Alabama border, this new 150MW AC solar farm will interconnect with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) existing electrical grid. The TVA, under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) will sell most of the output to Facebook, which built a $750 million data center located in nearby Huntsville, Alabama.

Built with 508,147 Trina and BYD-brand solar panels, the solar farm will help create more economic diversity in the region by attempting to attract high-tech companies to this largely agricultural region of the state.

Building a Strong Partnership

The solar farm construction project was awarded to Wanzek Construction, Inc. in early 2020. Shortly after, Ulteig joined the extended Wanzek project team to help optimize the preliminary project design and equipment to be selected for the project. Construction (as of January 2021) is currently underway with the project expected to be complete by October 2021.

Over the years, Ulteig and Wanzek have partnered on several wind energy projects throughout the country but the solar farm near Elora represents the first time the two companies worked together on a solar project, according to Andrew Melvin, technical manager for Ulteig’s Solar Engineering team.

“We have a strong working relationship with Wanzek,” said Melvin. “Our years of working together on wind energy allowed for an easy transition to this project.”

Optimizing for Reduced Costs; Higher Performance

In designing the solar energy farm near Elora, Ulteig engineers were challenged with optimizing project plans to reduce costs while maintaining or increasing the solar farm’s productivity. Fortunately, the engineers realized early on that they had a decent plot of land with which to work. While there are some wetlands nearby, the solar park is being built on a relatively flat, well-draining plot not located within a flood plain. Still, Ulteig engineers designed the solar park to withstand a 100-year flood event.

To achieve the project’s goals, Ulteig incorporated the following changes into the plan:

  • Completed a detailed study on module characteristics, which justified adding an additional two modules per string. By allowing more modules to share the same fixed costs, the price of construction was reduced by millions of dollars.
  • Conducted a shade analysis to reduce the effects of shade created by nearby trees that could not be removed to increase production. As part of the analysis, Ulteig made the assessment that it was better to tolerate some shade rather than install solar panels on less-than-optimal land that offered more unobstructed sun.
  • With a goal of speedy delivery, balanced a swift design schedule with appropriate level of detail and mitigated quality issues design-to-field
  • Reduced the number of roads within the solar farm by 50 percent to reduce road cost without hampering long-term maintenance efforts
  • Utilized a standard block design, rather than having custom blocks created, to lower construction costs
  • Standardized conductor colors to simplify material handling in the field

“Ulteig’s recommendations will save tens of thousands of dollars in building construction and maintenance costs over the long run,” said Melvin, “while reducing the break-even point for the owner/developer by years.”

Learn More About Ulteig’s Solar Power Expertise

Ulteig supports the development, performance and design of medium to large, grid-connected, solar electric projects including the C&I Distributed Generation and Utility scale markets. In addition to medium voltage collection systems, substation, SCADA, transmission, civil and GIS services, we also specialize in performance evaluation and plant design including DC collections and pile design. To learn more about Ulteig’s solar power services and expertise, download our Solar one-pager.


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