by Mike Boslet
Updated 6 yearss ago
In 2009, Bob Reedy was quoted in a magazine article as saying that by 2012 “every home (in Florida) will be built covered with” solar panels. Reedy, director of solar systems research at UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center, based his prediction on what he saw as a surge in manufacturing of photovoltaic cells, the shiny panels that convert sunshine into energy.
Well, here we are in 2014, and Reedy might as well have predicted everyone would be driving electric cars by now. Reedy says he doesn’t recall making that prediction, but he is even more certain now than he was five years ago that solar power in Florida is on the cusp of a boom.
It’s a matter of simple economics, he says. The cost of photovoltaic cells has fallen by about two-thirds since 2009 while electric utility rates have gone up every year and will continue to rise. At some point soon, Reedy predicts, the upfront cost of solar no longer will deter investment in it, as has been the case.
“It’ll be driven by money, not by wanting to help the environment,” he says. “It’s a pocketbook issue.”
Indeed it is, says Michael Kerr, a partner in Blue Energy Electric, an energy consulting company with locations in Oviedo and Stuart. Kerr says he has seen the cost of photovoltaic plummet 50% in two years, to about $2.50 a watt, but the decrease in cost hasn’t boosted demand for solar installations so far. A typical five-kilowatt residential system costs about $12,500, he says, a price that remains prohibitive for many homeowners, despite a 30% federal tax credit for converting to solar power.
While Kerr says solar investment is nearing a quick payback period, the Florida Solar Energy Center estimates that it could take as long as nine years to recoup the upfront cost. By 2025, the center says, the payback time period may be only a few years.
Orlando Utilities Commission may have found a way for homeowners and businesses to use solar without spending five or more figures to buy photovoltaic systems: Rent solar power from a utility company, as has been the practice with electric power.
OUC’s new Community Solar Farm provides solar power to 39 customers, charging them 13 cents per kilowatt hour, or about 3 cents more per kilowatt hour than OUC’s base rate. But the solar rate is fixed for 25 years. An OUC spokesman says the municipal utility is looking into expanding its solar service.
Testing Carbon Capture
Tampa Electric’s Polk (County) Power Station is the site of a carbon-capture research project that could lead to the clean and effcient use of fossil fuel sources. The U.S. Department of Energy is funding the $169-million demonstration of RTI International’s warm synthesis gas (syngas) desulfurization system.
According to RTI, the technology “removes contaminants at warm process temperatures, eliminating the need for substantial syngas cooling and expensive heat recovery systems.”
The project, running through next June, could yield commercially viable applications for the clean and effcient use of coal for the generation of electrical power, says Wayne Holden, president and CEO of RTI.
RTI says its system also is expected to demonstrate a process for capturing more than 90% of the carbon dioxide from the syngas stream. “Following cleanup, the hydrogen-enriched syngas will be reintroduced to the Polk 1 plant and combusted in the existing syngas turbine,” the company says.
Utilities trade electricity on the wholesale market to manage their costs.
> A software program called GenTrader calculates the marginal cost of generating, for example, 100 megawatts over some period of time. The software takes into account several variables, including the fuel, the facility generating the power and the overall load forecast.
> If FPL can purchase power from another generating utility at less than its marginal cost, it may buy power from that utility rather than generate it. Likewise, if FPL expects to generate more electricity than its customers need, it may be able to sell power to another utility that has higher marginal costs that day.
One example of a power sale:
> GenTrader calculates FPL’s marginal cost of generating 100 megawatts for 16 hours at $36.45 per megawatt hour.
> An FPL trader finds another utility willing to purchase 100 megawatts for $50 per megawatt hour.
Electricity sold: Hypothetical sale of 1,600 megawatt hours from FPL
100 Megawatts buyer needs
x 16 Hours needed
1,600 Total megawatt hours needed by buyer
x $50 Price per megawatt hour buyer is willing to pay
$80,000 Gross revenue to FPL (total cost to buyer)
- $58,320 FPL’s fuel costs
- $7,440 FPL’s transmission costs
$14,240 FPL’s total gain
> Florida ranks second in power generation from natural gas, 62% of the state’s total electric generation last year. Texas was No. 1.
> Coal accounts for 21% of electric generation in the state.
> Renewable energy accounts for 2.2% of power generation statewide.
> The average Florida household spends $1,900 a year on electricity costs, 40% above the national average.
Siemens’ Wind Service Training Center in Orlando uses three 30-foot towers and two 100-ton generators to train techs.
The American Wind Energy Association says wind power grew to more than 61,000 megawatts in 2013, a 140% increase over five years. Nationwide, wind power made up 4.13% of all electricity generation in the United States last year, the AWEA reported.
Even though the cost of photovoltaic cells has fallen drastically in the past five years, solar power’s time still may be years away.
OUC’s Community Solar Farm provides power to 39 customers. The municipal utility is looking into expanding its solar service.
Duke’s Billion-Dollar Plans
Duke Energy, the second-largest utility in the state, plans to spend nearly $1.7 billion on building a combined-cycle, natural-gas plant and two simple-cycle combustion turbine generators at two Florida facilities. The new generators and a $160-million upgrade to a third facility will produce a combined 2,200 megawatts of power by 2018.
The improvement plans come as Duke continues with the decommissioning of the structurally damaged Crystal River nuclear plant, which has been offline since 2009. The company also recently announced it had canceled plans to build a nuke plant in Levy County.
If it gets regulatory approvals, the Charlotte, N.C.-based utility expects to begin construction in 2016 on a natural-gas addition to its Crystal River Energy Complex. The $1.5-billion project is slated to replace two 1960s-era coal-fired plants and bring up to 700 jobs to the Citrus County area. Duke says it decided to retire the old units rather than equip them with scrubbers to meet federal regulations. A scrubber removes sulfur dioxide emissions, a major air pollutant, from the exhaust of a coal-fired power plant.
Duke also plans to begin operating in 2016 two simple-cycle combustion turbine generators at its Suwannee Plant near Live Oak. The generators will produce 320 megawatts of power and will be used to meet peak periods of demand. The new units cost $197 million and will replace three steam plants built in the 1950s.
Finally, Duke will install inlet airchilling units at its Hines Energy Complex in Polk County to increase efficiency and power output during summer months. The upgrades will be in place by 2017, boosting the 1,912-megawatt Polk plant’s power generation by 220 megawatts.
Duke’s Florida customers — now at 1. 6 million — will pick up the tab for the upgrades, paying a “recovery” fee of $9.19 per 1,000 kilowatt-hours.
Waste to Energy
Sustainable energy producer Harvest Power is nearing its first full year of converting organic waste into renewable biogas and fertilizers.
Harvest’s Energy Garden gets its organic waste from area hotels, restaurants and theme parks. The producer uses anaerobic digestion, “naturally occurring microorganisms to break down organic materials and produce biogas — a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide” — that is then combusted to produce renewable energy, according to the company’s website. The company says the plant is the first of its kind in the country. It produces 3.2 megawatts of power and 1.6 megawatts of recoverable heat, with the latter being used to dry natural fertilizers. Harvest says the facility can process 130,000 tons of organic waste a year.