While announcements about new big solar power plants grab the headlines (and the concerns of environmentalists (see this NY Times artlcle – BrightSource Alters Solar Plant Plan to Address Concerns Over Desert Tortoise)), many utilities are now beginning to focus on small distributed solar rooftop arrays and small solar farms that can be built close to power transmission lines. This approach has a lot of merit – connecting huge solar farms to the power grid is a major cost and regulatory driver for the utilities. By building small scale solar farms (solar gardens?) to take advantage of the already existing infrastructure, these solar projects can cost a lot less and can be built much quicker. And since there’s currently an oversupply of solar modules, the costs to build these smaller solar farms have come down even more.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, California regulators authorized Southern California Edison (SCE) to install about 500 megawatts of solar power on commercial rooftops. They also gave the go-ahead to Pacific Gas and Electric to begin work on a 500 megawatt project to install ground mounted solar photovoltaic arrays near PGE’s electrical substations. The New York Power Authority has just started a project to build about 100 megawatts of solar arrays at various locations in NY. And Recurrent Energy of San Francisco announced that they have signed contracts with SCE to provide 50 megawatts of electricity from small solar farms they plan to build on private land in Kern and San Bernardino counties.
“Distributed solar is faster on permitting, on environmental issues and interconnection to the grid,” said Arno Harris, Recurrent’s chief executive. “It offers a safety valve for utilities who don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket.”
via: NY Times Green, Inc