The changes may not be visible from U.S. Highway 411, but approximately 240,000 6-inch solar collectors are now arranged on the plant’s roof. The panels, which went live Sunday, will collect solar power and feed it directly into Georgia Power’s grid. Shaw Industries will then buy that power back.
“Now, you can look at the flow of electrons and see where they are actually going to go. They’ll probably end up in the plant. But, actually, we sell all of the energy to Georgia Power,” said Vice President of Sustainability Paul Murray.
“If on a weekend we’re not using enough power to pull it away, the electrons flow back in to the community. If we’re drawing enough, then it’s kind of like sucking the water out of a pipe — we pull it back into the factory. So that’s one way to look at it.”
The new investment comes after years of research at Shaw. Murray estimated the company had been discussing solar power in one form or another for at least seven years. For this investment to come through, said Director of Operations Jay Henry, the company took advantage of a solar initiative through Georgia Power and the state public service commissioner.
Plant 15, which is the first Shaw plant to receive this type of investment, was chosen for its large roof and its product line: carpet tiles.
“It made great sense to do it at that site, mainly because we have a great roof there,” Murray said, “a good location. It’s a Georgia Power site and the product that we make at that facility, we apply renewable energy to the production of that product. It’s part of the cradle-to-cradle certification for those products. So it really is the perfect place to have the solar energy.”
Plant Manager Jim Andrews believed his coworkers were excited to have such an investment from the company. In particular, he looked forward to a monitor in the plant’s lobby that will display how much energy the panels are producing.
“The bad thing is because of the angle of the road, you really can’t see it even though the road does pass by at about roof level,” Andrews said. “You can’t see through the trees and everything. They’ve got the monitor installed in the lobby, but it’s not operational yet. But it will be and it’s going to show how much power we’re generating ... kind of real time.”
The monitor is one representation of the solar panels’ other benefit aside from generating power, explained Murray. Shaw’s carpet tile customers look for products produced in an environmentally friendly method.
“If you were to say as far as a group of customers concerned about the environment, our architects and interior designers that buy our commercial carpet tend to be in that group. They tend to be a group that really understand, because of green building technology, the products should be green. So to be able to tell our customers when they come to Cartersville that we have solar on the roof is really going to be icing on the cake,” Murray said.
The entire process was designed to be as local as possible. The solar panels are domestically produced, Henry said, while the labor was locally sourced and the project manager was a Cartersville resident.
“We believe this is good all around,” Henry said. “We’re using local labor, domestically sourced and produced hardware, and it’s just a win across the board.”
As a company, Henry and Murray said Shaw was exploring a number of renewable energy options aside from solar, including using carpet waste as a fuel source. If necessary, Henry added, the company can expand Plant 15’s solar array, as the new system covers only one-fourth of the roof.
For Andrews, the new solar system is a compliment to him and his coworkers.
“I think for us, as plant management, ... it’s exciting because, No. 1, it’s investment in our business and our site. But, No. 2, we’re excited about it because our customers — our customers care about our environmental efforts and we’ve got a lot of good environmental efforts and this is just another,” he said. “I mean, it’s kind of a complement of ... it’s one more thing to complement what we do. I’m excited about it as an engineer because this is some pretty cool technology coming into our business and being here on our site.”