Brightfields Initiative


Brightfields is a new initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in August 1999, aimed at using former industrial sites contaminated with toxic waste for producing pollution-free solar energy. This novel concept addresses three of the nation's greatest challenges: climate change, urban revitalization, and toxic waste cleanup.

From "Brownfields" to "Brightfields"

Many former industrial sites in U.S. urban areas are hard to redevelop because of a legacy of toxic waste contamination. This initiative will turn these "brown-fields" into "brightfields" by placing clean energy systems, such as photovoltaic arrays, and high-tech solar manufacturing facilities on these sites.

Solar energy technologies, and photovoltaic systems in particular, are well-suited to brownfield sites. They require little maintenance and can stand directly on the ground without penetrating the surface or disturbing any existing contamination. The systems can be installed to function on or off the local power grid, depending on the needs of the site and existing infrastructure. They are especially attractive in urban areas with air quality concerns. With zero emissions, solar energy systems can offset emissions from other energy sources, particularly during peak hours when utilities often rely on older systems that pollute more heavily.

Brightfields also provide an opportunity for blighted urban neighborhoods to attract high-tech jobs and environmentally conscious businesses that are interested in supporting green investments or locating in environmentally friendly industrial parks.

Chicago First City to Use Brightfields Approach

The City of Chicago, working with DOE and Commonwealth Edison, developed an extensive plan that uses the bright-fields approach to advance its economic development, climate change, air quality, and electricity reliability goals.

As a first step, municipal officials persuaded the Spire Corporation to manufacture solar panels at one of the city's brownfields, creating more than 100 new jobs. A solar energy system also will be installed, both to supply some of the company's electricity needs and to serve as a demonstration and educational site. In addition, the city and Commonwealth Edison committed $8 million over the next five years to purchase and install solar energy systems at other brownfield sites, schools, office buildings, and municipal and commercial properties, and along transportation routes.

DOE has begun work with cities in California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Virginia to explore ways that brightfields can help communities address concerns about land use, economic development, energy, air quality, and climate change.

Click here for additional information on the Brightfields initiative.

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