Duke Shines a Light On Solar

By Betsy Judge

Duke Energy Florida says it has plans to build a smarter energy future for its customers, and solar, one of four sources of power considered a renew- able energy source, is at the center.

This slide from a Duke Energy presentation shows the five solar plants in Florida.
The Perry plant was built next to Perry Elementary School. It helps power the school and Duke provides energy curriculum for the students.

As one of more than 50 electric utilities regulated by the Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC), Duke must justify all of its expenses for its opera- tions. In late October they received FPSC approval to make investments in solar energy, smart meters, and grid modernization projects to enhance reliability, according to the company. They plan to make the grid more resilient and secure, provide optional billing programs to enhance customer choices, install electric vehicle charging stations, and initiate a battery storage pilot program. The company will also no longer move forward with the Levy County nuclear project and customers will not pay any further costs associated with the project.

“For renewables in Florida there are two things that really work well, solar and biomass,” said Tom Lawery, Wholesale Renewables Manager with Duke, speaking at a quarterly Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber advocacy meeting earlier this year. Duke also gets renewable energy from municipal solid waste, waste heat and hydro sources.

Duke provided 1.1 million megawatt hours from renewable sources last year including solar, municipal solid waste, waste heat and hydro sources. Image courtesy of Duke Energy.

“Solar is the one that’s really kicking into high gear now so that’s mainly going to be our focus.”

Duke has already invested in large-scale solar with four plants online including one at Disney shaped like Micky Mouse, and one coming online in Suwannee this month–in all a total of 150 football fields of solar panels.

“Large-scale is more economical,” adds Lawery, noting that is important to the FPSC. “So we build large solar facilities in rural areas and then use the grid to get it to Pinellas County.”

In densely populated areas where large swaths of land are not available rooftop and carport solar is ideal. “A lot of individuals have started seeing the economics work for them on the rooftops or even their businesses like Great Bay Distributors and Lockheed Martin. Both have individually come up with 2 megawatt hours (MW) of solar.” That equates to enough power to run 660 homes for one hour, according to the Clean Energy Authority.

“One of the things I get asked a lot is, ‘Well aren’t you guys against that? Doesn’t that take power from you?’ Absolutely not. We have 50 MW of individual and commercial solar now that are part of our grid, and that’s not Duke-owned, that’s private- owned, commercial-owned that adds to our grid every day. That’s a great thing.”

Duke gave USFSP a $1million research grant to explore the integration of storing solar energy in new battery systems and install a 100 kilowatt solar system on top of university’s south parking garage. They also provide solar curriculum to Perry Elementary School in Taylor County Florida, near their Perry Solar facility. Image courtesy of Duke Energy.


When it comes to determining if solar works for a business or individual, Duke is there to help. “People give us a call and say, ‘Will this work for me?’ And we work them through the math and let them make the decision.”

According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), 86,000 homes in Florida are powered by solar as of Oct. 6, ranking the state 12th in the nation with a projected growth of 3,615 MW over the next five years.

“We are getting 90 to 100 customers a month adding their own solar in our territory of the grid. That’s impressive,” adds Lawery.

Storage is a conundrum. Duke gave a $1 million research grant to the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg in 2014 to examine solar and energy storage, batteries and charging stations.

“Batteries are what can make solar much more prevalent. The problem with batteries right now, is that it increases the cost 3 to 4 times for that overall system.”

Duke works with schools on energy education. “So the next couple of generations not only will understand it, but be passionate about what we need to do.”

Balancing the speed of getting solar online with the cost to the customer is a challenge, and there are the social pressure to use renewables.

State Representative Kathleen Peters, who was the chair of the Energy and Utilities Commission earlier this year noted Duke is doing a “really great job.”

“I’m really excited about what is going on in Florida a far as energy is concerned, and I love that Duke Energy is not only are investing in storage with Tesla, but when they built their solar plant next to a school (in Perry) and provide curriculum, they are generating a whole new workforce that will be interested and understands this type of technology, so we have a future workforce. I think it’s brilliant that they made that connection. So Duke Energy is doing great stuff as is FPL (Florida Power & Light), TECO (Tampa Electric) and all the others.

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