March 28, 2008 California’s biggest electricity utility, Southern California Edison (SCE), has launched a project which will account for the largest solar cell installation in the United States. A massive 250 megawatts of advanced photovoltaic generating technology will be placed over 65 million square feet of roofs of Southern California commercial buildings – enough power to serve around 162,000 homes.
“This project will turn two square miles of unused commercial rooftops into advanced solar generating stations,” said John E. Bryson, Edison International chairman and CEO. “We hope to have the first solar rooftops in service by August. The sunlight power will be available to meet our largest challenge – peak load demands on the hottest days.” The large scale project was inspired by recent advances in solar technology that reduce the cost of installed photovoltaic generation. According to SCE, these advances combined with the size of the company's investment mean that the resulting costs per unit are projected to be half that of common photovoltaic installations in California.
SCE submitted a request to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval to install the solar cell technology during the next five years. The request estimates a total project cost of US$875 million. Once approval has been granted, SCE plans to begin installation work immediately on commercial roofs in Southern California’s Inland Empire, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The installation rate is predicted by Bryson to be one megawatt a week.
The benefit of this solar program for Californian customers is the availability of low cost renewable energy in areas of growing customer demand. The clusters of solar modules SCE plans to install will be connected directly to the nearest neighborhood circuit, eliminating the need to build new transmission lines to bring the power to customers. Additionally, solar units produce the most power when customer usage is at its highest. The SCE solar roof project ties in with other California environmental initiatives, including the Million Solar Roofs program that provides incentives to encourage Californians to install solar projects by 2017.