Tennessee’s solar industry is growing fast.
The state has a rich history in manufacturing and had several companies already located there that were well-positioned to transition into the new industry. The state’s infrastructure is also attractive to new businesses that have relocated there, and Tennessee is not shy about courting the new clean technology sector.
It established the Tennessee Solar Institute in 2010 to foster solar industry growth, said John Sanseverino, executive director of the institute.
And April 10-11, the state will host its second annual Tennessee Solar Solutions Conference in Memphis.
“We want to demonstrate that we’re a major player in the solar industry,” Sanseverino said. “We want to use the conference to bolster Tennessee’s reputation in the solar world and to educate Tennesseans about solar.”
There are more than 200 organizations involved in the state’s solar industry, according to a needs-assessment report put together by the institute last year. That includes 174 for-profit and 62 non-profit entities.
“With companies old and new investing and innovating, the solar sector is putting some of our 297,000 unemployed Tennesseans back to work, while growing our state’s economy and capturing a bigger slice of the $240 billion global clean energy market,” Sanseverino said.
The state has been attracting some major new players in the market, including Hemlock Semiconductors, which moved to Tennessee in 2011.
“There’s a lot here,” Sanseverino said. “We also had some older manufacturers that switched.”
Sharp Electronics, for example, has a factory in Memphis that switched from making TVs and microwaves to producing solar panels in 2000, Sanseverino said. Several other manufacturers have also switched some or all of their operations over and are now producing solar industry goods.
The state has a solar grant program that helps not only manufacturers, but also solar installers and those living in the state who want to go solar.
“We’ve partially funded 16 megawatts of new solar,” Sanseverino said.
The atmosphere in the state has also attracted entrepreneurs. The institute found in its assessment that 18 entrepreneurs had filed for patents on solar innovations.
It’s also a prominent place for solar glass. Almost 60 percent of the country’s solar glass is made in Tennessee, San Severino said.
“And we know the industry is growing,” he said.