The U.S. Department of Energy has launched a $1.4 billion loan guarantee project to build 733 megawatts worth of solar panels, which is almost the equivalent of all the photovoltaic installations in the U.S. in 2010. The program, called Project Amp, will also create more than 1,000 green jobs over a four-year installation period. What makes the program unique compared to other big solar programs is that instead of focusing on one giant standalone solar installation, Project Amp uses a distributed energy model involving 750 existing rooftops.
Standalone Solar Energy and Land Use
One obstacle for large standalone solar projects is the disruption of land that could be used for other purposes including nature conservation and farming. The U.S. EPA’s RE-Powering America’s Land alternative energy program provides one solution, which is to use abandoned Superfund sites and other classified lands for solar and wind installations. The Nature Conservancy also recently commissioned a wind power land use study suggesting that ample pre-developed sites exist for alternative energy installations.
Distributed Solar Energy
At least one major U.S. utility, Duke Energy, is becoming a huge fan of distributed rooftop solar power. In this model, the electricity generated by the individual installation does not supply the building directly. Instead, it is networked into the grid. This is the model that Project Amp will follow. Among the advantages, the distributed/grid model offers building owners the potential for offsite energy storage (particularly useful for facilities that operate at night) along with reliability of supply if something goes haywire on the roof. The grid model also offers a more attractive degree of energy security compared to large centralized power plants, which are vulnerable to natural disasters and other catastrophic circumstances.
The Department of Energy is relying on some heavy hitters for Project Amp. The 750 rooftops are all on buildings managed by the global industrial real estate developer Prologis, the solar panels will be installed by the leading energy company NRG, and financing is through Bank of America Merrill Lynch (yes, that Bank of America) The two-phase project will start in California, then move on to about 28 states and the District of Columbia.
Image: Rooftop solar power by Pink Dispatcher on Flickr.com