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May News Roundup: Solar Farms Continued Popping Up In May

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The solar industry is getting big, and these days, there are constantly new solar farms going in, and that’s on top of all of the smaller home and business installations! But, many of these announcements just aren’t that great on their own these days. So, toward the end of the month, I like to do news roundups to highlight some of the cool and good news that happened during the month that we hadn’t already covered.

In this article, I’m going to briefly cover three large solar installs that happened around the globe. There’s a milestone for installations in Massachusetts, two large installations in one city in Ohio, and something big happening in the Gobi Desert.

Aspen Power Hits The Century Mark

Aspen Power, a prominent US distributed energy firm, recently revealed in a press release that it has developed or procured over 100 solar projects in Massachusetts. The company’s acquisition of Safari Energy in 2022 has expanded its presence in the state, now boasting a total capacity of 36.5 megawatts (MW) and generating 90,790 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to date. This output is comparable to the annual electricity consumption of over 12,000 households or the prevention of more than 64,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.

“The Commonwealth’s ambitious, coordinated climate policy leadership has made it a key focal point of our development strategy and aligns well with our dual mission to accelerate and democratize decarbonization,” said Jackson Lehr, Co-Founder & CFO of Aspen Power. “The SMART Program in particular continues to promote development in a way that benefits diverse stakeholders and supports the continued deployment of local, clean energy.”

The Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program, offering financial incentives to solar system owners, has fostered a robust market for commercial and industrial (C&I) solar throughout the state. Additionally, SMART incentives have rendered Massachusetts an appealing market for community solar, expanding access to clean, renewable energy for numerous low-to-moderate income (LMI) communities statewide.

Aspen Power’s Massachusetts portfolio encompasses a diverse selection of solar projects, varying in size, deal structure, and technology type. Among the 100 projects developed or acquired in the state, the largest is a 3.4 MW multi-phase solar rooftop and parking canopy initiative at the Natick Mall. A unique project in Canton, MA, stands out for incorporating three different solar technologies – a rooftop array, parking canopy, and ground mount system – all within a single 1.6 MW project.

Aspen continues to develop new projects across the state, including a ground-mounted community solar array slated for completion in 2024.

So far, Aspen Power has developed or acquired over 600 projects across the nation, spanning from Maine to Hawaii. Supported by global investment firm Carlyle, Aspen ranks among the largest distributed generation independent power producers (IPPs) in the country. The company added more than 50 staff members and 220+ MW of operating assets to its portfolio through the Safari Energy acquisition in 2022. Aspen’s proficiency in early-stage projects, versatile financing solutions, and customer-focused approach continue to drive the company towards new industry milestones, cementing its position as a leader in the distributed generation sector.

Aspen Power caters to a wide range of market segments in Massachusetts, with clients including commercial and industrial businesses, public sector organizations, retail centers, warehouse and storage facilities, and community solar subscribers. Aspen’s projects in the state cover various establishments such as community centers like the Boys and Girls Club in Newton, ice rinks, apartment buildings in Stoneham and Ashland, educational institutions from elementary schools to universities like Tufts, fitness centers, transit authorities, and more. These diverse projects are spread across multiple utility service territories, including Eversource and National Grid.

Columbus, Ohio, Does Two Solar Farms

In a recent article at WOSU, we learned that the City of Columbus is going to move a good chunk of energy needs to solar with two solar array projects in the city. Two solar arrays on Parsons Avenue and Jackson Pike will contribute 45 megawatts of solar power to the city’s clean energy supply. Mayor Andrew Ginther, along with other city officials, initiated the groundbreaking ceremony at the Parsons Avenue site on Thursday.

“We need to lead the way, particularly because the state has been MIA, or in some cases, has been working to undermine efforts around solar and renewable energy,” Ginther told WOSU.

NextEra, the contractor for the projects, did not provide specific figures for job creation, but mentioned that numerous positions will be added, particularly during the construction phase. They stated that over 80% of the jobs created will be for local construction workers in Ohio.

Upon completion, the solar arrays will increase Columbus’ public utilities clean energy share to approximately 60%, assisting the city in achieving its target of 200 megawatts by 2030. The city’s climate action plan aims to reduce overall carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2050.

China Goes Big in Gobi

A recently completed solar array in Ningxia Hui is colossal, with the capacity to power 1.5 million homes. Boasting 1 million kilowatts of capacity and the ability to generate 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours per year, the Ningxia Hui array marks the beginning of several massive renewable energy projects planned for construction in arid western regions such as the Gobi, Tengger, and Taklamakan deserts.

In its latest Five Year Plan, the Chinese government detailed its goal to install 100 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2026, with a focus on solar and wind power in desert regions. The National Energy Administration reported that China’s installed capacity of renewable energy continued to grow in the first quarter, reaching 47.4 million kW, representing an increase of 86.5% compared to the same period last year.

Big Solar Isn’t Going Anywhere

Utility-scale solar has certain advantages over home and business rooftop solar installations. One of the key benefits is economies of scale; utility-scale solar projects are typically larger, which allows for more cost-effective installation, lower maintenance expenses, and bulk purchasing of equipment.

Utility-scale solar farms often use advanced solar tracking systems that follow the sun’s movement throughout the day, maximizing energy production. These systems are generally more efficient than stationary rooftop solar panels. Moreover, utility-scale solar farms are usually built on underutilized land or brownfield sites, whereas rooftop solar installations may require valuable real estate on homes or businesses.

Another advantage is centralized energy generation. Utility-scale solar systems produce electricity in a centralized manner, making it easier to manage and distribute energy across the grid, while rooftop solar systems generate energy at multiple distributed locations, which can be more challenging to manage.

Utility-scale solar farms also benefit from professional management, with teams ensuring optimal performance, maintenance, and monitoring. In contrast, homeowners or business owners with rooftop solar systems may lack the necessary expertise for optimal system management.

Finally, utility-scale solar allows everyone connected to the grid to benefit from clean energy, even if they don’t have the means or space to install rooftop solar panels on their property.

It is essential to consider that both utility-scale solar and rooftop solar have their unique benefits and roles in promoting a sustainable energy future. Rooftop solar provides energy independence, reduces transmission losses, and contributes to local energy resiliency, while utility-scale solar enables large-scale clean energy production.

So, we can expect both types of installations to continue far into the future!

Featured image provided by Aspen Solar.

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Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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