Orlando and Duke Energy to explore solar partnership. (Sentinel file photo.) Orlando and Duke Energy are considering setting up a “microgrid” solar station, with an enormous battery and thousands of solar panels, to power the city’s Iron Bridge sewage plant near UCF.
During ordinary conditions, the panels would pump electricity into Duke’s network, which provides energy to the sewage plant and is Central Florida’s largest source of power.
But during storm blackouts or other interruptions, the solar panels and battery could be disconnected from Duke’s larger electric grid. It would then temporarily be its own, relatively small grid that enables one of the state’s biggest handlers of sewage to continue operating.
“We are very comfortable with the technology and how these things need to work,” said Adam Nygaard, Duke’s Charlotte-based manager for business development. He described the Orlando proposal as a pilot project for “proving the business case.”
The cost and benefits for Duke and Orlando are yet to be determined. City commissioners on Tuesday will decide whether to pursue talks with Duke.
The Iron Bridge plant, which is in Seminole County about a mile northwest of the University of Central Florida, is surrounded by Duke service area.
The plant treats tens of millions of gallons of sewage daily from Orlando, Winter Park, Maitland, Casselberry and parts of Orange and Seminole counties.
It is by far the biggest consumer of electricity in Orlando’s inventory of buildings and operations.
Orlando and Duke Energy initially are looking at the sewage-plant system as able to produce from 1 million to 3 million watts, or 1 to 3 megawatts.
By comparison, a residential, rooftop solar system typically measures in the thousands of watts, while newer utility solar plants in Florida are capable of 75 megawatts.
Duke would build, own and manage the system and Orlando would provide access to 30 acres of retention ponds at the sewage plant.
Also being considered for the sewage-plant system is a battery able to provide as much as 5 to 10 megawatts for an hour – which would be one of the largest batteries in Florida.
For Orlando, the solar system would help the city in its goal of weaning itself from burning coal or natural gas to generate electricity.
The city also may become essentially a customer of the solar power, locking in favorable rates for the electricity.
Chris Castro, sustainability director for the city of Orlando, said proposed solar for the Iron Bridge is a glimpse of what’s to come.
He said the city is considering installing solar panels and batteries at 14 properties that include the emergency-operations center, fire stations, community centers that become shelters during storms and elsewhere.
For Duke, the big battery would help maintain optimum voltage in the area, lessening the strain on other parts of the grid such as substations, and may contribute significantly to electricity consumed during the hottest part of the day.
The batteries are lithium-ion similar to “what’s in your cell phone or laptop,” Nygaard said. “These batteries historically have been pretty expensive. But probably the electric-vehicle revolution really has driven lithium-ion battery costs down.”
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