Power sources can be divided according to a lot of different criteria, but one of the most crucial is centralized versus distributed. Coal and nuclear are centralized because no-one wants to use those things at home, and because on a large enough scale they’re highly efficient. Their drawbacks, however, are many. Besides the obvious environmental issues, centralized power requires hundreds of miles of high capacity cable that allow large amounts of electricity to leak away on the trip from plant to customer. And a disruption at a mega-scale plant can cause regional power shortages.
Distributed power sources that produce electricity on-site have none of those problems. Because they compete with the cost of delivered rather than generated power, they can be more expensive than coal and still be a good deal. And they make the grid more robust by spreading generating capacity all around. This, in other words, is the future. And here’s how it will happen:
ROSEMEAD, Calif., Jul 27, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Southern California Edison (SCE) awarded 36 contracts to independent power producers for a total of nearly 60 megawatts from photovoltaic solar panels that will produce emission-free energy for SCE customers. The panels will be installed on 31 unused rooftops and five ground-mount sites in SCE’s service territory.
The solar rooftop project, approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in June 2009, calls for a total of 500 megawatts of solar generating capacity, most of it on otherwise unused large warehouse rooftops. Half of the 500 megawatts will be from independent power producers who respond to SCE’s request for offers under competitive solicitations; the remaining 250 megawatts will be owned and operated by SCE. It is expected that this project will create about 1,200 jobs for Southern Californians.
“These contracts make significant strides toward distributed renewable generation for one of the most innovative solar programs in the country,” said Marc Ulrich, SCE vice president, Renewable and Alternative Power. “We’re working to help California meet its Million Solar Roofs goal and supply even more renewable energy to our customers where and when it’s most needed, without the added time and expense to construct major new transmission facilities.” The contracts awarded today are the first executed under the competitive solicitations for independent power producers.
SCE believes that its solar rooftop project will be a boon for the solar industry and consumers alike, with the resulting cost per unit significantly more cost effective than more common residential photovoltaic installations in California. Eventually, this could help drive down installation costs of photovoltaic generation for everyone. When complete, the solar panels will cover an area totaling 4 square miles on about 250 otherwise unused warehouse roofs. The total power production will rival a utility-scale power plant, enough electricity to serve 325,000 average homes at a point in time. SCE has already installed panels on three rooftop warehouses in California’s Inland Empire that are delivering — or are in line to deliver — electricity to the grid.
SCE is the nation’s leading utility for renewable energy. In 2009, SCE delivered 13.6 billion kilowatt hours of renewable power to its customers, about 17 percent of its total power portfolio.
Note the crucial point that the real estate — warehouse rooftops — is currently unused, just sitting there in the sun. No environmental impact studies ore rights of way battles required. Just bolt down the panels and start generating. The world’s sunnier climes all have this kind of prime generating real estate just waiting to be exploited. And as solar panels get cheaper and more durable, the economics of distributed power will only get better.