Florida utilities leverage falling battery costs to support solar boom

Florida power utilities are investing in battery storage to avoid supply-demand imbalances and maximize the value of rapid PV buildout in the coming years, industry experts told New Energy Update.

Florida's largest power utilities have set out ambitious solar expansion plans. (Image credit: RoschetzkyIstockPhoto)

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On January 16, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) said it plans to make Florida a world leader in solar power production by installing 30 million solar panels in the state by 2030.

A supplier to almost 5 million customers, FPL also plans to make “unprecedented investments" in battery storage technology, the company said. FPL recently installed 14 MW of battery storage technology at two 75 MW solar plants and plans to take advantage of falling costs to deploy a "significant amount" of storage throughout Florida by 2030.

Despite no state mandate for solar, Florida was already forecast to install around 5.5 GW of solar power in the next five years, the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) said in December. Installed solar capacity was around 2.2 GW at the end of Q3 2018, representing 1.1% of total electricity supply.

Some operators are already installing storage systems to mitigate the impact of cloud cover on PV supply.

During sunny days, intermittent cloud cover causes Florida’s PV generation to ebb and flow at rapid ramp rates, Rene Brown, associate engineer at Jacksonville utility JEA, told New Energy Update.

In the second quarter of this year, JEA will connect to the grid a 5 MW solar plant coupled with a 2 MW battery, its first utility-scale storage project. By the end of 2022, JEA plans to increase its installed solar capacity by 250 MW to 289 MW.

“Even at moderate penetration levels, intermittency of solar PV can [have] a significant impact during shoulder months and temperate days when overall demand is low,” Brown said.

“This is why technologies like battery energy storage and fast start engines are becoming key players in future solar deployments in Florida,” she said.

Growing challenge

As Florida PV penetration grows, the state will require greater energy shifting resources to mitigate the ‘duck curve’ effect on prices already experienced in California. Rapid PV growth has dampened California’s daytime power prices, raising the value of dispatchable evening peak supply.

Supply and demand-side energy shifting measures will become more important in Florida when PV penetration reaches levels of 15% to 20%, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) said in a study published in September 2018.

              Florida PV impact on net load ('Duck curve')

                                               (Click image to enlarge)

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2018

The Sunshine State has the potential to achieve 30% PV solar penetration by 2026 if it invests in flexibility options to preserve its value to the system and reduce net-load variability, the report, ‘Integrating solar into Florida's power system: Potential roles for flexibility,’ said.

“Energy storage, whether in the form of batteries, pumped hydro or demand response can step in to shift some of the available PV power generation from the daylight hours, when it is produced, to times when the sun is not shining but electricity load is high,” Elaine Hale, NREL researcher and lead author of the study, told New Energy Update.

Activity hikes

Other Florida utilities are ramping up PV and storage plans.

Duke Energy Florida (DEF), the state’s second largest power supplier, plans to add 700 MW of solar power and 50 MW of energy storage projects to improve grid reliability by 2022, according to a plan approved in 2017.

Last month, DEF started commercial operations at its 75 MW Hamilton Solar Power Plant in Jasper and the company plans to install around 500 MW of solar capacity by the end of 2020, according to 10-year site plans published by the Florida Public Service Commission in November.

DEF already operates 92.6 MW of large-scale solar facilities and 100 MW of customer-owned solar capacity operates in its service area. Storage systems include a 250 kW battery-solar micro-grid pilot at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and 700 kWh of batteries across 28 schools coupled with solar.

DEF’s new battery energy storage projects are expected to be of capacities between 500 kW and 10 MW and installed at various sites across the company's supply zone, Ana Gibbs, Duke Energy spokeswoman, said.

By Anna Flavia Rochas