December 7, 2011 - 88-year-old electric utility officially began its test drive Wednesday into a new era of generating power using the sun's rays as free fuel.
The exploratory journey may be illuminating, but it won't be cheap.
Orlando Utilities Commission already has dabbled in solar arrays on buildings, but a far larger project dedicated Wednesday features 25,172 photovoltaic, or PV, panels erected in rows across 35 acres in east Orange County.
That amounts to a small and yet significant plant able to influence OUC's grid enough to require the constant attention of engineers.
"The main reason why we are doing this is the opportunity to truly study how large-scale PV will impact the OUC distribution system," said Byron Knibbs, the utility's vice president of sustainable services. "There are a number of factors that effect this — weather and clear skies — and when it's overcast, the panels may drop 50 percent" in output.
As solar-technology costs continue to fall, Knibbs anticipates a potential surge in solar-panel installation on customer rooftops, requiring OUC to have the equipment and know-how to deal with power fluctuations. Cookie-cutter solutions won't work, he said.
"The characteristics and setup of a distribution system for every utility is unique," Knibbs said.
At peak performance, OUC's solar plant will capture enough of the sun's photons, and convert them to enough AC electricity, to meet the demands of 600 homes. It's the first solar plant in Orange County, but it's a smaller version of several such projects already operating in Florida. read more>>>