An NFL lineman turned visionary developer today is unveiling startlingly ambitious plans for a solar-powered city of tomorrow in southwest Florida's outback, featuring the world's largest photovoltaic solar plant, a truly smart power grid, recharging stations for electric vehicles and a variety of other green innovations. The community of Babcock Ranch is designed to break new frontiers in sustainable development, quite a shift for a state that has never been sustainable and lately hasn't had much development.Where will the power for this "green" city come from?
Kitson has been promising unprecedented sustainability all along, but today's shocker was the announcement of Florida Power & Light's plan to provide electricity for Babcock Ranch with a 75-megawatt photovoltaic plant nearly twice as big as the current record holder in Germany. Solar power has been slow to catch on in the gas-powered Sunshine State, but FPL hopes to start construction on the 400-acre, $300 million plant by year's end. The utility expects it will provide enough power for Babcock Ranch and beyond.Furthermore, Time writer Michael Grunwald claims that:
At $4 million per megawatt — FPL estimates the cost to its customers at about 31� per month over the life of the project — it should be more than four times as cost-effective as the nuclear reactors FPL is trying to build near the Florida Keys.This statement raises the obvious question of why FPL is trying to expand its nuclear capacity if solar photovoltaics are already four times as cost effective. The answer, in fact, is elegantly simple: Grunwald's math is way off. Not only will the solar plant produce power at least twice as costly as that from FPL's new reactors, but thanks to its likely <25% capacity factor and a lack of energy storage, this "solar-powered city of tomorrow" will likely end up consuming more nuclear-generated electricity than solar-generated electricity.
A quick Google search reveals that Grunwald's numbers are simply inaccurate to begin with:
The Babcock Ranch project will cost between $350 million and $400 million, FP&L officials said. Three other solar projects now being built by FP&L will add 31 cents to the average monthly bill of the utility's 4.5 million customers.Instead of the $4000/kW given by Grunwald, that's $4667-$5333/kW. This is still considerably lower than the estimates that I had seen in studies commissioned by Florida PSC, for instance this one. This study expected ground-mounted single-axis tracking solar PV installations to reach this price point in approximately 2014. Still, even at that point using favorable assumptions electricity from these facilities was projected to cost over $0.20/kW-hr, with government subsidies reducing that price to $0.136-$0.15/kW-hr. Meanwhile, the same study concluded on the basis of equivalent methodology that the new nuclear plants currently being planned in Florida will produce power at a cost of approximately $0.12-$0.13/kW-hr, beginning in 2016. This was assuming the relatively high figure of $7700/kW capital cost for the nuclear plants. The Navigant study does, however, make it absolutely clear why the Florida PSC has adopted the particular set of policies it has by endorsing aggressive pursuit of both nuclear power and some renewables. However, in ALL scenarios it studies nuclear power is cheaper than all forms of solar electricity after 2016, even with government subsidies. Far from being "more than four times as cost-effective as the nuclear reactors FPL is trying to build near the Florida Keys," this plant will ultimately be considerably more expensive.
Furthermore, it will not actually power Babcock Ranch most of the time. As reported by the Miami Herald:
Though researchers are working to create storage capability for sunlight-generated power, solar electricity at present only is available during daytime hours. The concept is FPL's 75-megawatt solar generator will produce more power for the state's electric while the sun shines than the city will use in 24 hours.Basically, the solar plant will produce four times as much electricity as is used by the development one-quarter of the time. The majority of the electricity generated by the plant will go out into the grid and be used throughout Florida. At night and when the sun isn't shining brightly enough to produce much power, the city will receive its electricity from the rest of FPL's generation base... including the reactors at Turkey Point. Currently about 19% of FPL's electricity in Florida is generated at Turkey Point and St. Lucie, but with the ongoing uprates and the two new units at Turkey Point this should increase to 30%+. Furthermore, as solar insolation varies considerably between summer and winter, most of the electricity from the solar plant will be produced in the summer. This means that the PV arrays will produce far more electricity than the city will use in the daytime in June, and far less than it needs in the winter and, of course, none whatsoever at night. So it is unavoidable that most of the energy consumed by Babcock Ranch will come from elsewhere on FPL's grid, and given the probable makeup of their generation mix one decade from now, it will use more electricity generated by nuclear reactors than by its own solar plant.
''We're going to generate more renewable energy than the city consumes,'' said Kitson spokeswoman Lisa Hall. ``It will be a leader in solar. It's a great opportunity to overcome that storage thing. The carbon footprint is going to be net zero.''
Isn't that just deliciously ironic?