Florida Power & Light Co. and Florida International University have announced a new partnership to build a commercial-scale distributed solar power facility that will both generate electricity for FPL's 4.8 million customers and serve as an innovative research operation.
The project involves the installation of more than 5,700 solar panels on 23 canopy-like structures that will be built this summer in the parking lot of the university's Engineering Center, just north of FIU's Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Using data from the 1.6MW solar array, faculty and students from FIU's College of Engineering and Computing will study the effects of distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) generation on the electric grid in real-life South Florida conditions.
"This innovative solar project builds on FIU's relationship with FPL, one that provides our students with unparalleled and unique training opportunities," said FIU president Mark B. Rosenberg. "Through this project, our engineering students will make a direct contribution to the growth of solar energy in our state, while gaining invaluable experience working side by side with professionals from one of the most forward-thinking utilities in the nation."
"FPL is proud to be a leader in advancing solar energy in smart ways, making sure to keep costs low and reliability high for our customers," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "As the economics of solar continue to improve, we look forward to harnessing more and more energy from the sun. Our partnership with FIU is designed to help us manage solar power's interaction with the greater electric grid as part of our commitment to reliably deliver affordable clean energy for all of our customers."
The project will benefit both partners in different ways.
When the sun is shining, the approximately 342,000-square-foot solar array will provide electricity for FPL customers via the electric grid. Over the course of a year, the installation is expected to produce the equivalent of the amount of energy used by approximately 34,000 laptop computers. The canopy structures will also create about 600 shaded parking spaces.
"This public-private partnership aligns with FIU's BeyondPossible2020 strategic plan by establishing a state-of-the-art core facility expanding our energy research and scholarship preeminence," said FIU Provost and executive vice president Kenneth G. Furton.
FIU students have already begun gathering information to be used in their research, including historical weather data and energy production and usage patterns. The research will take Florida's unique weather conditions into consideration and help determine the types of technology that may be needed to ensure the grid's reliability is not negatively affected by fluctuations in solar PV production due to clouds, thunderstorms and other variables.
"FPL is fortunate to have such a respected research institution with which to partner right in our backyard," said Bryan J. Olnick, vice president of power delivery distribution and operations for FPL and a member of FIU's Advisory Council for the College of Engineering and Computing. "The in-depth analysis of data from the solar panels will help us continue to advance affordable clean energy for all of our customers."
FPL, the largest generator of solar energy in Florida, operates three solar power plants in the state. The company recently announced plans to cost-effectively triple its solar generation in Florida by the end of 2016.
The project announced today is an expansion of FPL's strong relationship with FIU. Hundreds of FPL employees are graduates of FIU, and many remain active with the school through boards and alumni groups. Also, in 2010, FPL established an on-campus customer care training center where FIU students learn from FPL's nationally recognized customer service organization, answering actual calls from FPL customers. The initiative helps FPL continue to attract local employees and provides career training for FIU students. Last year FPL donated an electric vehicle from its clean fleet to FIU's College of Engineering and Computing to further their research and testing of wireless charging technology. And since 2012, 39 students have participated in our company's internship program and many have gone on to join the company as full-time employees.