Thirty years is a long time to commit to anything, and Nissan is acknowledging this fact by commemorating its thirtieth year in the state of Tennessee with the installation of 30 solar-powered electric car charging stations split between its Smyrna assembly plant and the company's North American headquarters in Franklin.
Not only does the move highlight the special relationship Nissan has with Tennessee – starting with one manufacturing plant there in 1981 and then, in 2006, becoming the site of the company's headquarters – it also helps reinforce just how serious the company is about the electric drivetrain.
"Tennessee is Nissan's home in the Americas region," said Carlos Tavares, chairman of Nissan Americas. "These solar-assisted charging stations demonstrate our dedication to a zero-emissions society, and our dedication to bringing innovation to our home in Tennessee."
Nissan says the solar chargers are meant for use by employees and visitors to charge their all-electric Nissan Leafs, but leaves open the question of whether or not rival carmakers' electric cars will be allowed to juice up in the parking spots.
As part of a test program in conjunction with the US Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority, the stations will help determine how to minimize the impact on the local energy grid from many electric cars charging all at once in the same spot.
By storing energy from the sun in banks lithium ion battery packs (the same ones found in the Nissan Leaf), the study's partners should be able to gauge how the batteries respond to this kind of use. This can help determine how well they can be adapted to a 'second-life' application after they cease to be useful in a Leaf.
The solar charging stations at the Smyrna assembly plant are being installed in the shadow of a massive battery plant taking shape next door – which is expected to be fully operation by the end of 2012.
By that time, retrofits to the assembly plant to build the Leaf on the same lines as conventionally powered vehicles will be completed, giving Nissan the ability to build as many as 150,000 Leafs per year in the United States.
Want to learn more about living with an electric vehicle? Follow our long-term test of the 2011 Nissan Leaf.