Florida’s New Solar Power Plant

Posted on Mon 11/16/2009 by

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Not long after President Obama took office, he made the bold statement that he wanted to double the generation of renewable power during his first term. It seems a fairly comfortable thing to say, because, starting from so low a base, then doubling that might actually seem achievable. However, the reality is that these plants take 6 to 10 years in the planning and up until the stage they are delivering power to the grid. So, in reality, any new renewable power plants that do open in his first term will have been planned and approved during the previous Bush term of office. When I mentioned that in January, and also in February, I also mentioned that the President would be seeking to have photo ops at these renewable plants to give the impression that something tangible is being done. To that end, he toured the Solar PV (Solar panel) plant at the Nellis AFB in Nevada in May, a plant that had already been in operation for nearly 18 months, well before he took office.

Three weeks ago, the President was at the commissioning of the new Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant in Arcadia, in DeSoto County in Florida, the new DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center.

In the short video clip there, the President says that this is what a ‘clean energy future’ will look like. With that in mind, let’s then look at what this Plant provides.

This plant is the largest Solar PV Plant in the U.S. surpassing the one at Nellis AFB in Nevada. These plants utilise panels that generate the electrical power under direct Sunlight. There are more than 90,000 panels mounted on Heliostats that track the progress of the Sun across the sky during daylight hours. The plant occupies nearly 200 acres of land and cost $150 Million.

The Nameplate capacity of the plant is 25MW, which means that is the maximum power that the Plant can generate. This however is not the power being supplied to consumers. That power is expressed in KiloWattHours, (KWH) and this plant supplies 42 Million KWH of usable electrical power to consumers for each year, and that is the important number here and one I will be closely referring to later on here.

This Plant proudly mentions that this is enough electrical power to serve 3,000 homes. Those figures alone, the total power and number of homes, being as large as they are, certainly sound impressive, and give the impression that this Plant is a large supplier of electrical power to service those homes. It is however a very clever diversion. How they come at this figure is like this.

They know how much power the Plant actually supplies to consumers each year. They know from detailed figures from numerous sources the amount of power consumed by the average home in that area for each year, a figure expressed in the same KWH. They then divide the home usage into their total yearly output and come up with that figure of 3,000 homes.

The Plant does not supply power to those 3,000 homes in its totality. It supplies electrical power to the grid for that area.

Let’s then look at the grids that supply power to the consumers of Florida. Like the rest of the Country, Florida has consumers of electrical power in the same three sectors, those being Residential, Commercial, and Industrial. For the whole of the U.S. the breakdown is Res. (37%) Com. (35%) and Ind. (27%) In Florida however, the breakdown is a lot different, mainly because the major Industry of Florida would be tourism, which mainly would fall into the Commercial sector of consumers, Industrial meaning heavy industry etc. Also because Florida is that huge tourist destination, and the place for retirement in the Sun, then the Residential sector is also a lot larger than for the U.S. average. The breakdown for Florida is Res. (50%) Com. (40%) and Ind. (10%) The overall total power consumption for the whole State of Florida is 125 Billion KWH. I express that term in KWH, because that is what most people would identify with, as that is the way it is expressed on their electrical utilities Bill.

So, this new Solar Plant provides 42 Million KWH of new power to the Florida grids. This amounts to just a tick under 0.0334% of all Florida’s electrical power consumption. Still sounds impressive, even at such a small number, considering the whole U.S. average for Solar power of every kind is only 0.02%, so it’s above the average, but considering the average is so low this is still only a minute amount of power.

I’ll take you back to the maximum delivered power I mentioned above, that of the 42 Million KWH.

The total power that can (theoretically) be produced from a Plant can be worked out by a simple (even though it looks difficult) formula.

NP (Nameplate Capacity) X 24 X 365.25 X 1000.  NP is in MW, the 24 for hours in a day, the 365.25 for days in a year (leap year for the .25) and the 1000 to convert from MW back down to KWH.

So then in the case for this new Solar Plant it looks like this.

25 X 24 X 365.25 X 1000 which comes to 219.15 Million KWH.

The power actually supplied is 42 Million KWH.

[picapp src=”3/1/e/4/President_Obama_Speaks_143b.jpg?adImageId=7516672&imageId=6923180″ width=”300″ height=”200″ /]
President Obama opens the new Solar Power Plant in Florida.

This means that this plant has an efficiency rating for power delivery of 19.16%. This means that extrapolated out over the year, it supplies its maximum power for that 19.16% of the time. Even though the Plant starts contributing power as soon as the Sun starts to shine on the panels, that amount is nowhere near the maximum. There is also the problem of cloudy days. As soon as even one cloud flits across the face of the Sun, the power produced drops by anything up to two thirds and then takes a while to build back up again, so the image you see at left of the President opening the plant on a cloudy day would have seen little in the way of real electrical power being generated.

The Plant supplies power only during daylight hours, that level slowly rising during the morning, and then diminishing approaching Sunset. However that maximum supplied power amounts effectively to an average of four hours and 35 minutes each day, averaged for the whole year.

Four hours and thirty five minutes a day.

This is about the average for these types of Solar PV plants.

Let’s then compare it with another power plant, and one that supplies power to the same grid. The Plant for comparison is the one Nuclear reactor powered generator at the Crystal River Power Plant, which is around 160 miles from this Solar Plant. It also has four coal fired generators at the same site, the plant having a total capacity of 3200MW. That one nuclear reactor powered generator has a Nameplate Capacity of 840MW and produces just on 7 Billion KWH of power sent to the grid. It utilises a Pressurised Water Reactor to generate the steam to drive its turbine, and it delivers its power at a delivery efficiency factor of 95%.

To use the same comparison this Solar plant uses, then this one nuclear generator can serve 500,000 homes, more by a factor of 170, even though it is only larger in Nameplate Capacity by a factor of 34.

This Solar Plant also says it will supply that power for 30 years, although this is a little better than the World average standard lifetime of 20 to 25 years. The Nuclear Plant has a lifespan of 50 years which can be effectively extended out to 75 years, so let’s use the quoted standard for this Solar Plant of 30 years and the Nuclear plant for the lesser figure of 60 years. Over the life of the Nuclear Plant, it will supply power to the grid, greater by a factor of 350 times. Using that example, then just to supply similar power to this one small Nuclear generator, you will need to build 350 of these Solar Plants, and at $150 Million, there’s a figure of $52.5 Billion. All that has to be done after that is completed is to find a way to make the Sun shine throughout the night.

It’s a pretty academic argument using statistics like this, but it serves to highlight the stupidity of saying that this is the vision for the future.

One last and very telling statistic. This new Solar Plant produces its 42 Million KWH delivered to the grid over the whole year. The one small nuclear generator used as a comparison delivers that exact same amount of power to the same grid every two days and five hours.

If this is what a ‘clean energy future’ looks like, then I’m afraid that the President is looking in the wrong mirror.