Odd Bedfellows

Posted on March 5, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

Palm Beach conjures up images of hedge-hidden mansions and sandy beaches – but in the far western corner of Palm Beach County, FPL Energy (one of the nation’s largest utilities) is nearing completion of what is soon to be the world’s second largest solar array.

The 500 acre field of solar thermal mirrors is being erected adjacent to FPL’s existing natural gas plant – which also happens to be the nation’s largest fossil fuel power plant.  Rather than competing with one another, FPL envisions the energy produced from its solar array as complementing its fossil fuel energy production.  Electricity generated from the sun will allow FPL to cut its natural gas use and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  It will also provide extra power when there is highest demand for it: when the summer sun is shining and Floridians crank up their air-conditioning.  FPL also expects to save as compared to building a stand-alone solar facility, since it does not have to build a new steam turbine or new high-power transmission lines.

These symbiotic hybrid power plants also present a solution to what is one of the biggest issues facing energy production in America – variability of demand.  Because electricity cannot be stored easily, utilities must always produce enough power to meet electric demand at any given time.  In practice, this means that a lot of power is wasted, as it’s put on the back-burner, idling for when demand spikes.  In hybrid plants, utilities can maximize the intermittent power generated by renewable sources but will have a big and reliable backup with their fossil fuel plants.

Many utility executives see this power generation approach as the logical and cost-effective path towards ramping renewable energy up while still maintaining power stability.

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