Accelerating Solar Energy Deployment

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Oct. 28, 2009) -  It’s a problem faced by electric utilities nationwide: As more and more renewable energy enters the power grid, the benefits of offering “clean” electricity come at the price of unpredictability. Now, to help address some of the technical hurdles specifically facing solar photovoltaic (PV) energy resources, the U.S. Department of Energy is providing a major research grant to a consortium of Florida researchers, utilities, manufacturers and engineers.

With a $3.6 million award from the department, The Florida State University, University of Central Florida and University of South Florida are teaming up with Florida utilities and solar industry suppliers to launch the Sunshine State Solar Grid Initiative (SUNGRIN), a five-year project to investigate the effects of integrating high levels of solar PV energy resources into the electric power grid.

Florida electric utilities participating in the SUNGRIN initiative are Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), Tampa Electric, JEA (formerly the Jacksonville Electric Authority), the Orlando Utilities Commission, Gainesville Regional Utilities, Lakeland Electric and the Florida Municipal Power Agency, with coordination and involvement from the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council (FRCC). Also participating are leading solar technology suppliers SunPower Corp. and Satcon Technologies, as well as system integration and engineering firm AMEC.


“Solar energy is the largest non-dispatchable renewable energy resource in Florida,” said Steinar Dale, director of the Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS) at Florida State. “This grant will allow us to better understand how high penetration of solar energy, both on the customer side and on the grid, will affect the grid system operation, and how it affects the dispatch of traditional power generation from nuclear, coal and natural gas sources.”

Non-dispatchable energy resources are those, such as solar PV or wind turbines, from which electric power system operators cannot expect on-demand delivery of a specific guaranteed power output at any given time.

“We are most pleased that this Florida-led team will have the opportunity to work with the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to make important contributions toward accelerating clean solar energy deployment and diversifying the nation’s electricity supply,” said Rick Meeker, manager of DOE programs and industry partnerships at CAPS and leader of the SUNGRIN initiative. “It seems only fitting that the Sunshine State play a key role in charting a successful future for the integration of solar PV.”

Sarah Rogers, president and CEO of the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, added that “the FRCC and its members are pleased to support this important initiative by increasing the awareness, coordination and efficiency between Florida universities and the industry.”

With the state’s utilities pursuing a number of major projects and initiatives, Florida is poised to become a national leader in installations of grid-connected solar PV. While solar energy can help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, it can also pose challenges to a power grid that was not built to accommodate large amounts of intermittent resources such as solar PV energy. In Florida and across the country, it is increasingly important to more fully understand and address the implications this may have relative to continued secure and reliable operation of the power system.

“High-level penetrations of solar PV are likely within utility planning horizons, so very soon, we need to understand the resulting grid response,” said Bob Reedy, director of the Solar Energy Division at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center. “My guess is we will go beyond making PV acceptable to the grid operators and actually see the unique advantages of PV become desirable in improving grid reliability.”

Reliable and cost effective integration are keys to ensuring increased penetration and sustainability of customer and utility-owned PV resources within the diverse mix of the nation’s existing generation supply.

“The SUNGRIN effort is particularly timely given the need to determine how smart-grid development being considered for wide-scale installation can be made to enhance the effectiveness of our solar-energy production portfolio,” said Alex Domijan, director of the
Power Center for Utility Explorations at the University of South Florida.

The center’s deputy director, Arif Islam, agreed.

“The time is now to plan for new solar PV installations with interaction studies with the rest of the power system as it begins to be transformed to a smart grid,” he said. “Certainly our new efforts in smart grids, energy storage and demand response, among others at the Power Center for Utility Explorations will find a synergy developed by this joint effort with the Center for Advanced Power Systems and the Florida Solar Energy Center.”


The University of South Florida System is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The system offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. It has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.



-- Barry Ray, Florida State University, Research/ News Writer