Monday, December 12, 2011

SCE Pioneering Rooftop Photovoltaic Power in Game-Changing Solar Energy Effort

The next time you feel the strong ray from the sun know that across the San Bernardino County solar panels on large industrial warehouses are delivering electricity - possibly to your home. Recently, some 26,880 solar panels have been installed at a 1.2 million square foot warehouse structure here owned by Prologis Inc. Southern California Edison officials say this is likely the largest roof-top installation of solar panels in the country. This power plant generates 6 megawatts of electricity, enough to provide the electrical needs of 3,900 homes. Currently SCE has a network of 18 neighborhood solar stations which generate 42.25 megawatts, enough to serve 27,500 homes. Other rooftop powerplants are in Fontana, Chino, Ontario and Redlands. There is one ground solar panel site in the San Joaquin Valley town of Porterville. By the end of 2016, SCE plans to create a network of neighborhood solar power plants like the one in Rialto capable of generating 500 MW of electricity, enough to power 325,000 average homes, said Gil Alexander, a company spokesman. Half of that capacity will come from firms which have developed their own rooftop solar plants, half from SCE-owned plants like those in operation.

"The sun is the ultimate source of energy," said Alfredo Martinez-Morales, managing director of the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy at the University of California, Riverside. "Most of the energy we know as humans came from the sun. As far as we are concerned, the sun will always be there. It is not the perfect solution, but it makes sense for solar to be one of the future ways to power society," he said. SCE has favored San Bernardino County for its company owned installations because of its strong, generally fog-free sunlight and the availability of large warehouses, said Rudy Perez, manager of SCE's solar photovoltaic program. For its rooftop sites, SCE wants buildings 200,000 square feet and up that are less than five years old, so that structurally they can hold the weight of the solar panels, Perez said. The company pays building owners what averages to be $30,000 per megawatt per year, he said.

Major program goals are to drive down the cost of solar panels and engineer new technology so that electrical substations at the neighborhood level can accept power as well as deliver it. After SCE announced it's plan to generate 500 Megawatts with predominately rooftop solar projects, other large investor-owned utilities in the state followed up with similar endeavors. All were motivated by a mandate from the state of California requiring investor-owned utilities to develop one-third of their electrical output from renewable sources by 2020. Currently SCE gets about 19 percent of its electricity from renewable sources - the highest in the nation, Alexander said. Wind power and solar power share both have intermittent production characteristics which can potentially create havoc in the power grid, said Mike Montoya, director of grid advancements for SCE. Natural gas and nuclear powered plants generate steady streams of electricity. Solar and wind plants can rapidly reach strong production levels and just as rapidly drop to almost nothing. New equipment needs to be developed to manage those spikes, Montoya said. Power at the level of the Rialto Prologis rooftop plant are not a threat to the grid. But when SCE starts delivering one-third of its electricity from renewables, the electrical transmission system needs to be a lot different than it is now, Montoya said. At the power grid level that connects individual customers to substations, SCE is looking at three key research and development areas, Montoya said. Creating tools to analyze the impact of adding power to one section of the neighborhood grid. Developing advanced sensors that instantly detect voltage fluctuations and trigger corrective measures. Developing power inverters which won't magnify grid problems.

Solar panels generated direct current, which must be converted into alternating current so it can move in the power grid. The inverters now sold increase voltage when current flow from solar panels decrease, when, for example, a cloud passes overhead. Voltage spikes can damage customers' equipment. SCE is working with manufacturers to create inverters which won't boost voltage levels, Montoya said. SCE plans to open a demonstration center in Irvine in 2014 to showcase technological advancements leading to the two-way grid which can accept large loads of electricity as well as deliver them. Martinez-Morales said that for solar power to become a major power source, better energy storage systems, such as batteries, must be developed. Alexander said that its price also must decrease significantly. While the quest for more solar power and cheaper solar power is noble, not all think it's leading to a solution for the nation's energy challenges. "This is a nice step and it is good that they (SCE) are doing it," said Richard G. Little, director of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy at the University of Southern California. "Is it an answer to our energy demand? Not really. The growth of the world's population will outstrip anything we can reasonably produce. At the end of the day, we have not hit on the real solution, if there is one," Little said.

Posted byPriyankaat11:00 AM
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