The evolution of solar energy took another step forward in March with the announcement that a solar panel project spanning 100,000 square meters is being built in Thailand, making it the world’s largest array installation at a single facility. If you want to visualize how big that is, picture enough to cover more than 10 American football fields.
The project is being built by Falken Tyres, a Japanese tire brand owned by Sumitomo Rubber Industries (SRI). It will be installed at SRI’s factory in Rayong Province, Thailand, about 30 miles southeast of Bangkok, making tires for the European market. According to a Falken press statement, once the facility is fully fitted with solar panels, it is expected to be 100% sustainable.
By any measure, it’s an ambitious project. It will include about 40,000 panels, with an expected total output of roughly 22 megawatts (MW) when completed in January 2025. That’s enough to power more than 2,700 U.S. homes.
The factory will also get a new gas cogeneration system consisting of two 6.6 MW boilers powered by renewables and will replace energy supplied by local utilities. After rubber tree harvesting, additional power will be provided by biomass from leftover branches and trunks.
The massive solar installation is part of a broader SRI sustainability initiative to accelerate the company’s carbon-neutral goals — including a 2030 target of cutting yearly Scope 1 and 2 carbon dioxide emissions by 50% compared to 2017.
The SRI project also comes amid a global movement to build more extensive solar installations to power large buildings and facilities. An example on a smaller scale is the Javits Center in New York City, a 3.3 million-square-foot convention facility on Manhattan’s west side. Last year, Siemens finished building a new rooftop array at the Javits Center with 1,400 panels. It’s Manhattan’s largest solar project to date and one of the borough’s highest-capacity battery energy storage systems.
As Canary Media reported, the Javits solar project features a unique checkerboard layout rather than the standard panel design. The different configuration was necessary because the roof was already occupied by about three dozen HVAC systems and sedum plants, which absorb stormwater runoff and help keep buildings cool.
To work around the problem, Siemens built canopies that hover over the HVAC units. The arrays resemble puzzle pieces to accommodate air blowing from the HVAC system’s vents.
“Installing a rooftop solar array atop the Javits Center is the next major step in our sustainability journey, and it has been an honor to work with Governor Hochul, NYPA, and Siemens to create this remarkable — and renewable — source of energy on Manhattan’s West Side.” Javits Center CEO Alan Steel said in a September 2022 press release.
“From serving as a wildlife sanctuary to operating a one-acre farm, our rooftop is unlike any other in New York State, and we hope our efforts inspire others to explore sustainable building as we bring people together for events during Climate Week NYC.”
The Javits Center project was finalized during a period of rapid growth in solar energy across New York State. During last September’s Climate Week, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that four gigawatts of distributed solar had been installed across New York at community, residential, small commercial, and industrial projects, providing enough energy to power more than 710,000 homes.
Because so much of New York City is densely populated, with high-occupancy buildings packed together on thousands of city blocks, the Big Apple is a prime candidate for large-scale solar projects.
The Javits Center project was completed about three years after the corporate owner of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan installed the country’s largest solar panel array on an apartment complex. That news was reported in July 2019 and coincided with a separate announcement that the Bronx could have an even larger array project at a Co-Op City complex.
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village project was announced in late 2017 by a partnership between Blackstone and Ivanhoe Cambridge. The 3.8-megawatt solar energy system spans the property’s 22 acres of rooftops. At the time of completion, it tripled Manhattan’s capacity to generate solar power.