Look up: A 10-acre electricity farm powered by the sun is set to rise at Charleston International Airport.
Boeing Co. will harness solar energy from the expansive roof atop its new 787 assembly plant and use it to run its manufacturing campus off International Boulevard.
Officials with the aerospace giant said the project, a joint effort with South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., is part of the company’s plan to power its North Charleston site entirely with renewable energy sources.
Company leaders, including Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Officer Jim Albaugh, gathered with SCE&G officials and local, state and federal lawmakers to announce the project Tuesday at Boeing’s local campus.
The technology is not new, but the scope of the Boeing solar venture is likely to attract international attention within the renewable energy industry. Albaugh said the endeavor will mark the sixth-largest solar farm in the world, a first for the company and Boeing’s most energy-efficient site.
“You know, environmental responsibility starts within the four walls,” he said.
The low-glare dark blue photovoltaic panels will be able to pump out enough power for about 250 South Carolina homes, according to Rick Muttart, director of site services for the company’s East and Midwest regions.
SCE&G will own and maintain the system, which will cover the entire tilted roof. The four-month installation phase is expected to begin in May.
Boeing and the Cayce-based utility began working on the deal last fall. The cost was not disclosed.
The energy created by the sun-soaking panels won’t be enough to power the entire Boeing site. The company will pay a premium for power that SCE&G produces from wood chips and other biomass sources at a generator it owns at the nearby KapStone paper mill.
The renewable energy push stems in large part from the airplane that will be assembled directly beneath the solar farm starting this summer. The 787 fuselage is made from composite materials, making it lighter and 20 percent more fuel efficient than other large commercial jets with aluminum skins.
Muttart said most, if not all, 787 buyers are attracted to the energy savings, making it important for Boeing to showcase that in other ways to customers.
“The desire to do something different here was on our radar screen,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the project “is going to go well beyond Boeing.” Graham said this undertaking shows “it’s possible to clean up the environment and make money.”
The solar panels come in 18-inch-wide laminated strips in 1,000-foot-long sections. The supplier is Uni-Solar, which is part of Dearborn, Mich.-based Energy Conversion Devices.
The strips will be secured to the roof with an adhesive, and they have an estimated 25-year lifespan. Maintenance will consist largely of regular inspections and washing debris off the roof about once a year.
Boeing officials said it would be difficult to replicate the solar project at its main aircraft manufacturing site near Seattle. Many of those buildings went up years ago, when it was standard practice to place air conditioners and other utility units on the roof, company spokesman Rob Gross said. Also, the soggy weather in the Northwest is less conducive to solar power.
In North Charleston, the roof atop the new assembly is free of obstructions. And the days are mostly sunny.
Kevin Marsh, president of SCE&G, said the project would mark the first time his company supplied a building with 100 percent “green” power.
Addressing the crowd Tuesday, he said, “Thank you, Boeing, for giving us a building to do this on.”