Southern California Edison (SCE) and SunPower Corp. announced last Wednesday that SunPower has won a contract to provide solar technology for generating up to 200 MW, or 80%, of the solar power capacity needed for the utility’s large solar photovoltaic (PV) installation program. The agreement is an indication of the growing importance of aggregating distributed generation resources as an alternative to building large "utility-scale" generating plants.

During the next five years, SCE plans to install, own, and operate 250 MW of solar generating capacity, most of it on otherwise unused large warehouse rooftops. The large one- to two-million-watt solar installations will be connected directly to neighborhood distribution circuits where the leased rooftops are located.

"The anticipated benefits of this agreement with SunPower include panel costs that will allow us to meet our commitment to increasing our customers’ supply of renewable energy while reducing the cost of installed solar PV power in California," said SCE President John R. Fielder.

SCE is purchasing the SunPower T5 Solar Roof Tile product, which integrates into a single unit a solar panel, frame, and roof mounting system, thereby reducing installation time and costs. In addition, the SunPower product was selected because it will allow SCE to produce more power per installation.

More Sun in the Forecast for SoCal

SCE plans to add even more solar power. On January 21, 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the process to be used for a second track of solar installations that will double the size of SCE’s PV program. Regulators previously directed SCE to conduct a competitive solicitation offering long-term power contracts to independent solar power providers willing to install an additional 250 MW of PV generation. SCE hopes to launch the solicitation later this month. Eventually, the two installation tracks will add a total of 500 MW to the solar generating capacity of Southern California’s power resources—the largest U.S. PV program ever undertaken.

Feeding Solar Power to the Grid

In a related development, on Thursday, SunPower announced that the company has been awarded two grants totaling approximately $1.5 million from the California Solar Initiative Research, Development, Deployment and Demonstration (CSI RD&D) Program. SunPower will participate on two distinct projects with leading solar technologists to research how to facilitate high levels of distributed PV penetration into the utility distribution system.

SunPower will use the funding for the first project to explore the planning and modeling for high-penetration PV on the California transmission and distribution network. The company will research the development of tools and resources necessary to facilitate the study of high-penetration PV scenarios using industry-standard simulation tools.

SunPower will team up with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) on the second project to research the new hardware and software tools for providing bi-directional communication and management between PV systems and utility controls using advanced metering infrastructure. The company will provide supplementary funds to SMUD for the latter project.

Source: SunPower, POWERnews