U.S. Utility Industry Gets Serious about Solar Energy

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The Electric Power Research Institute has installed a photovoltaic research system on its roofThe Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) represents about 90% of the electricity generated in the U.S., so it was a significant move when this nonprofit research organization entered a partnership with the Solar Technology Acceleration Center in May.  Well, they certainly haven’t let any grass grow under their feet.  This week, EPRI announced that it will install a 187-kilowatt photovoltaic research system on a roof in its headquarters.  The project is scheduled to be completed within two months, and it will be the second largest in EPRI’s home city of Palo Alto, California.


An executive from SolarCity, the solar system installer, says that the company’s goal “is to make solar a more widely used source of U.S. electricity generation.”  The partnership with EPRI will go a long way to fulfilling that goal. Aside from offsetting a little over 10% of the institutes’s power usage, the installation will perform real-time data collection to help assess the impact of weather variations on a solar array, and to assess their effect on the distribution grid.  But wait, there’s more…

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EPRI is also expanding its research into biotech, wind, and other renewables, spurred on by increasingly aggressive demand from the utility industry and by the potential for renewables to create new green jobs.  In addition to solar, utilities are pursuing wind energy, one recent example being a 240 megawatt wind power agreement by Consumers Energy in Michigan with independent wind energy developers.  The company also notes that the agreement will create new green jobs locally.  Puget Sound Energy in Washington State has a highly rated renewable energy program that includes buying energy sourced from anaerobic gas digesters located on dairy farms, which has the added benefit of helping dairy farmers convert their massive manure output into environmentally safe products.

Distributed Solar Power

The Consumers Power bulk agreement is just one way that utilities can take advantage of new opportunities in renewable energy.  Utility giant Duke Energy demonstrates another path, with its installation of small solar arrays spread among schools, businesses, and other facilities throughout its distribution grid. With or without rebates or buy-backs from utility companies, renewable energy is also starting to make more bottom line sense for businesses.  One recent example is Venida Packing, a California citrus fruit packing and storage company that saw its electricity bill evaporate after installing a 622 kilowatt solar array.  In addition to the direct financial benefit, the company also notes an image boost among “customers who appreciate their effort in maintaining ‘green’ practices.”  To add green icing on the solar cake, the array was installed on an efficiency-boosting tracking system designed and built in the U.S. by PV Trackers.

Image: Utility pole by gadl on flickr.com.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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