Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cali Utility to Install 2 Square Miles of Solar Panels

Southern California Edison (SCE) has launched one of the most ambitious solar rooftop projects to date, promising 250 megawatts of photovoltaic power covering more than two square miles (some 65 million square feet) of southern California’s commercial building rooftops in what it claims will be the nation’s largest solar cell installation. All told, the project is forecast to cost $875 million and produce enough power for 162,000 homes. Booyah.

By spreading the panels out over an already highly wired area, SCE hopes to save itself — and presumably its customers — the cost of having to install new transmission lines. Access to transmission lines is one of the leading challenges for large solar and wind power installations, which are often located in remote regions.

It’s one of the most notable distributed-power projects ever undertaken by a large utility. The New York Times puts the size of the planned installation into context and says it is “10 times bigger than any previous such installation;” the NYTs notes that the largest in the U.S. is the 14 megawatts, at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and the largest in the world is 23 megawatts in Spain.
This is of comparable size, at least in dollars, to this new solar plant. I don't really understand how much transmission lines cost, and whether distributed systems like this make more sense economically than central power plants. I should look into that (or hope that one of the highly educated loyal Fat Knowledge readers will leave a comment with some numbers or links (hint, hint)).

via Earth2Tech


Anonymous said...

Here's how it works. Imagine it is 2 o'clock in the afternoon on the hottest day of the summer. The electric company cannot send enough electricity for all the air conditioners and other demand- its not that they cannot generate it, it is that they cannot deliver it. The electric wires won't carry it - so there are brown outs. That is why utilities are happy to pay customers so that they can turn off their water heaters and other appliances during peak demands - its not because they don't want to sell more electricity. Copper is expensive. There is no economic gain in putting a lot more copper wire overhead to support peak demand for a few hours a year. This is why local generation of solar makes sense - even in places like New Jersey - where you don't get much solar energy except on those hot summer days. there is only payback in the summer. It is a better deal for them than copper that gives almost no payback.


Fat Knowledge said...

Thanks Charly.

You wouldn't happen to have any numbers to support your analysis would you? I see what you are saying about copper being expensive, but so is silicon for making PVs. I would think PV would have to be cheap enough for this to make sense (if PV were 10 times as expensive, it probably would still be cheaper to use more copper, right?), but I have no idea how cheap, or even what I should be comparing.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the numbers, but have talked to someone in the solar industry that came out of the electric utility industry. The point is that additional copper wires that get used only a few hours a year never pay for themselves, but the photovoltaics eventually do.


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