Florida Power & Light is pushing forward with its plan to install 30 million solar panels by 2030. When completed, it will help make Florida a world leader in renewable energy. FPL head Eric Silagy tells the Daytona Beach News Journal that’s enough solar panels to go around the Earth one and half times. “It’s very exciting. It’s a continuation of what we have been doing but on a vastly larger scale.” The “30 by 30″ expansion will “change the dynamics and make Florida a real leader of solar in the world,” he says.
The company plans to activate 4 new solar farms in early 2019, including a 74.5 megawatt facility in Samsula, located west of New Smyrna Beach. The 300,000 solar panels in that project will generate enough electricity to power 14,500 homes. Silagy says his company has secured sites for 100 more solar projects throughout the state that will generate an additional 1o gigawatts of clean solar power. It is also adding battery storage to many of its solar projects to make that solar power available to customers in the evening after the sun sets.
“It’s really good business for us to be clean and it’s the right thing to do, but you have to be sure people can afford their power bills and it works 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” Silagy says. “In order to keep the lights on reliably it takes a variety of ways to do that. We think solar makes a whole lot of sense, but there are challenges.”
“We have done a great job in marketing Florida as the Sunshine state, but it’s not the best solar resource in the world or even in America,” he says. “We’re not the Mojave Desert.” What he means is that Florida has salt air and humidity, both of which can degrade the performance of solar panels over time.
Economics are what are driving the pivot to solar power. Silagy says the latest systems cost only one third as much to build as solar projects the company invested in 10 years ago. One advantage solar has over traditional generating facilities is that solar farms require no water to operate. Florida’s future growth is constrained by the amount of fresh water it has available to meet the needs of commercial and residential users.
FPL expects to obtain 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It operates a nuclear power plant in St. Lucie County but shuttered two coal-fired generating stations near Jacksonville in the past two years and plans to close its last coal facility by the end of this year. Combined, those three plants pumped more than 7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere every year, according to a report by the Good News Network.
As lower costs drive utility companies to consider more renewable energy projects, keep in mind that Florida utility companies spent $20 million in 2016 in a shameful scheme intended to lock Florida home owners out of rooftop solar opportunities. Utility companies, as a group, have a mind set that believes they should own and control the distribution of all the electricity available within their regulated area. The idea that someone might obtain electrons without paying a utility company for them is an anathema to utility company executives.
But as Australia has shown us, lots of rooftop solar systems can help meet the need for electrical power during the middle of the day when demand — especially in hot climates like Florida — is highest. It’s true that a few solar panels for a rooftop system cost more to buy and install on a per unit basis than a few million solar panels for a utility scale installation. But rooftop solar has the advantage of not needing expensive transmission lines.
Utility scale solar and rooftop solar each have a role to play in the transition to renewable energy. Florida can and must do more to promote both.
A CleanTechnica hat tip to Ken Anderson.
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