On the Flip Side — A Hope for US Clean Energy

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I just wrote about how it looks like China is going to clean the US’ clock on large-scale clean energy projects. But, as we all know, clean energy doesn’t need to be from (super) large projects to provide people with power. In fact, that is one of the hopes many of us have, that “power” will be more decentralized.

However, something that would combine those two approaches — large-scale, centralized power and small-scale, decentralized projects — might be ideal, providing the best advantages of both approaches. That’s exactly what large-scale distributed energy power purchase agreements do.

Additionally, it looks like they are here!

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Recurrent Energy and Southern California Edison (SCE) signed an agreement today to have SCE buy 100% of the energy from three Recurrent Energy solar power projects.

The three projects that Recurrent Energy is building will be in Kern County and San Bernardino County and will have a peak output of 50 MW in total. Two projects will have a peak output of 22 MW and one will have a peak output of 6 MW. They should all be completed by 2013 and construction is expected to begin in 2012.

What are the Big Advantages of Distributed Power Projects?

The main advantages of these projects are quicker implementation, better ability to upgrade or innovate to more efficient technologies, and much more flexibility in siting.

As David Roberts of grist lists, in more detail, these are some of the big pluses for Recurrent Energy and distributed power, in general:

*It’s easier to find land, because solar panels are modular (they can be scaled to any size/shape of land parcel) and they are quiet and non-polluting (they can be located next to homes and offices).

*For the same reasons, distributed solar doesn’t require environmentally sensitive land; it can be placed on already developed land or industrial rooftops. That makes for a much easier and faster permitting process.

*Distributed solar doesn’t require new transmission, since it can be located next to existing lines. There’s no waiting for transmission permits or construction. Interconnection to the grid can happen almost immediately, and some of the value of avoided transmission can be built into the power price.

*Because it avoids many permitting and interconnection hassles, Recurrent can build projects faster, in the range of two to three years. (The SCE projects will go online in 2013.)

*Because it has many smaller investments rather than one big one, Recurrent is more able to adapt to delays or setbacks at individual projects.

*Because it has a steady stream of new projects rather than one every 5-10 years, it is better positioned to take advantage of iterations in technology. (And solar panel prices are descending quickly.)

While providing all of these advantages, a large total supply can also help to keep the cost down.

More large-scale power purchase agreements using distributed energy could be the US’ special juice to get ahead in clean energy.

Along with leading technological development and innovation, this could help put the US in a better position than we might expect just looking at the eye-dropping mega projects.

Related Stories:

1) Utility-Scale Distributed Solar Gets Blast-Off in California

2) Rooftop Solar Installations Growing Faster than Utility-Scale Solar

3) Wow, China IS Serious About Clean Energy!

4) Who’s More Powerful than Obama?

Image Credit: Zen Roxy via flickr under a CC license

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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