Graded industrial solar project shows advantages for brownfield solar development


Landfills, refineries, and designated Superfund sites have become popular sites for solar development based on financial incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act, which prioritizes such sites as Energy Communities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are currently over 450,000 brownfield sites across the U.S. that stand to provide clean power resources despite their dirty past.

As of the end of 2022, the EPA reported 106 completed superfund projects, combining for 512 MW of generation capacity. Solar makes up most of the portfolio, contributing 372 MW across 86 projects.

Shaw Industries, a building products company owned by Berkshire Hathaway, is developing an industrial solar project situated on a steep slope grade at a carpet tile manufacturing facility in Adairsville, Ga. The half-acre installation will add 300 kW of capacity once complete later this year.

The project is unique in that it incorporates brownfield project capping and artificial membrane technologies designed for landfill solar use. It uses the PowerCap photovoltaic (PV) system, developed by Watershed Solar and its geosynthetics infrastructure product group.

In addition to providing solar energy to the Georgia industrial facility, the industrial solar installation offers versatile siting location based on the PowerCap and ClosureTurf technology and materials used in its construction. PowerCap is installed on top of synthetic turf at inactive landfill sites using Watershed’s ClosureTurf system which provides grading and erosion controls for brownfield sites to allow for solar installations.

PowerCap is a direct surface attachment and “plug and play” integrated wiring technology which allows for PV installations at steep slopes of up to 22 degrees incline, as well as large flat surfaces of environmental closures such as landfill caps.

The brownfield solar system is capable up providing up to one MW per two acres of degraded land reused for solar generation, up to 300% larger capacity than typical ballasted metal racking used in such applications. The PowerCap system provides up to 60% greater fill factor due to the slope and panel density per unit area. The solution is well-suited for closed landfills, impoundments and stand-alone slope applications.

The PowerCap system uses a PV embedded rail attachment, which gives the array a smooth look and allows the system to conform to the siting sub-grade, providing various suitable degrees of installation on sloped surfaces.

Solar installations can be configured between monofacial, bifacial and dual-glass solar panels, allowing various panel types and thicknesses to be attached to the rail system.

Watershed’s PowerCap technology improves solar output and boosts project economics using:

  • Geotechnically engineered and tested, stabilized solar energy system
  • Direct attachment method to ClosureTurf with no penetrations
  • Achieves industry-best power density per unit area and for the entire site
  • Enables installation on landfill slopes up to 2:1
  • 40-year product performance warranty
  • Applications are eligible for the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) in various instances

To date, ClosureTurf products have been installed at more several thousand acres of brownfield solar sites, including landfills across the U.S. Over the years, the product membrane solution was used as a landfill closure method at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated Superfund sites.

Watershed Solar provides peace of mind to ClosureTurf site owners and operators due to the combined geotechnical engineering of Watershed Geosynthetics and solar energy expertise of ISM Solar Development.

The company prioritizes a “do no harm” strategy to ensure the long-term integrity and performance of ClosureTurf. Watershed Solar Development integrates ClosureTurf and solar maintenance to provide maximum financial benefit, quality assurance, and risk management to its customers.

“The demonstration installation at Shaw’s manufacturing facility provides us with the ideal way to showcase the possibilities of our PowerCap technology to more customers, more readily, which stands to accelerate adoption and the positive impact we can all have on people and the planet,” said Mike Ayers, chief executive officer, Watershed Geosynthetics.

Initially Shaw Industries supplied turf membrane to Watershed Geosynthetics, but in October 2021 Shaw acquired an interest in the geosynthetics company and in February 2023, acquired the solar business, Watershed Solar, according to a news release.

The geosynthetics business services the environmental and civil sectors, with more than 3,300 acres of projects completed across 41 states and three continents.

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