Electric utility companies in the U.S. are starting shed their dependence on fossil fuels, what with some converting coal power plants to biomass and others launching ambitious plans for solar energy generation, including distributed solar micro-arrays. Now they are taking the pursuit of new solar energy technology to the next level, with a new partnership between the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Solar Technology Acceleration Center (SolarTAC) in Colorado.
The partnership is significant because EPRI, a nonprofit research company, represents a good 90% of the electricity generated in the U.S. Hooking EPRI up with SolarTAC, one of the newest and largest solar test facilities in the world, sends a clear signal that U.S. utilities are picking up the renewable energy pace. And if that’s not clear enough, EPRI spells it out: “Anticipating renewable portfolio mandates and higher costs for fossil fuels, utilities are moving to develop renewable technology options.”
SolarTAC and Solar Technology Development
The giant electric company Xcel Energy and solar experts SunEdison and Abengoa Solar were behind the development of SolarTAC, along with other public partners. The project, which has been in development since last year, aims to provide solar companies with a field-test site for technologies that are in or near commercialization. It also provides a platform for federal research programs to coordinate efforts with the private solar industry, and to that end the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also signed a letter of intent to join in. The lab, part of the Department of Energy, will contribute a $2 million thermal energy storage test facility to the SolarTAC site among other projects.
Utilities and Solar Technology
The partnership between EPRI and SolarTAC is just one indicator of how quickly utilities are beginning to scramble away from fossil fuels. Another indication is the distance that some major utilities have put between themselves and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s obstructionist position on renewable energy, including Exelon and PG&E which left the Chamber over the issue. Another industry leader, Duke Energy, is still a member but is on record strongly criticizing the Chamber. Other utilities are aggressively pursuing renewable energy through research partnerships and clean tech competitions. Speaking of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the organization has established a solid track record in opposing federal action on climate change despite solid and growing support for national climate legislation by U.S. businesses. What’s up with that?
Image: Concentrating solar installation by langalex on flickr.com.
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