Florida chooses world’s largest solar + storage project to replace gas plants

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Florida utility plans to build the world’s largest solar and battery storage project to replace two ageing gas plants.

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Florida Power & Light (FPL), the state utility owned by NextEra Energy, plans to build the world’s largest solar plus battery storage project which will boast battery capacity four times larger than anything currently in operation.

The new project is specifically intended to accelerate the retirement and replacement of two 1970s-era natural gas generating units at the company’s neighbouring power plant.

FPL says its Manatee Energy Storage Center which will be co-located with an existing FPL solar plant in Manatee County in southwest Florida, and will boast storage capacity of 409 MW and be able to provide 900 MWh of electricity – the equivalent to power 329,000 homes for 2 hours.

“This is a monumental milestone in realizing the full benefits of solar power and yet another example of how FPL is working hard to position Florida as the global gold standard for clean energy,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL.

“Even as we aggressively execute on our plan to install 30 million solar panels by 2030, we never lose sight of finding innovative ways to bring our customers the benefits of solar energy, even when the sun’s not shining.

“Replacing a large, aging fossil fuel plant with a mega battery that’s adjacent to a large solar plant is another world-first accomplishment and while I’m very pleased of that fact, what I’m most proud of is that our team remained committed to developing this clean energy breakthrough while saving customers money and keeping their bills among the lowest in the nation.”

FPL is also planning numerous smaller battery installations across Florida, as well as a number of solar power plants and energy efficiency upgrades to existing combustion turbines at other power plants.

All in all, FPL believes their plans will save customers over US$100 million (AU$140 million) and eliminate more than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

“FPL is pioneering a clean energy revolution for our state that’s come full circle for our community,” said Stephen Jonsson, chairman of the board of County Commissioners in Manatee County.

“It seems like just yesterday that FPL kicked off its massive solar expansion in 2016 by opening a solar power plant in Parrish. Fast forward a few years, and our hometown solar power plant is on the verge of powering the world’s largest solar-powered battery system.

“This modernisation plan is truly an incredible feat and consistent with our commitment as leaders to keep sustainability at the forefront of every project that takes place in Manatee County. It’s why we continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with FPL to help do our part to shape Florida’s clean energy future.”

The Manatee Energy Storage Center will also serve an important publicity project as renewable energy technologies such as solar will quickly be shown to be a reliable replacement for traditional generation technologies such as coal and natural gas.

Combining solar and storage allows solar generation to no longer be quite so tied to variable weather conditions and can dispatch electricity as needed by way of stored power in its co-located batteries.

In doing so, utilities are shining a spotlight on the lie that only fossil fuel generation can provide dispatch power and grid stability services, further undermining the already lacklustre arguments against renewable energy technologies and in support of fossil fuels.

“The way we generate, store, transport and use electricity is being reinvented,” said Temperince Morgan, executive director of the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

“New technology, like large-scale battery storage, is a critical step on the path to a cleaner, cheaper and more efficient energy future. Achieving this outcome is critical to the well-being of our economy, our communities and our planet.”

The growth of solar + storage projects has been rapidly supported by dramatic cost reductions in battery storage. This was seen most recently and most dramatically in the latest Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCoE) figures published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance last week which showed that the LCoE for lithium-ion batteries dropped 35% in 2018 to US$187/MWh.

As batteries become cheaper, more renewable energy projects can begin to co-locate with battery projects to smooth electricity output and provide grid stability services.

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