Cali Utility to Install 2 Miles of Solar Panels

SCESouthern California Edison (SCE) has launched one of the most ambitious solar rooftop projects to date, promising 250 megawatts of photovoltaic power covering more than two square miles (some 65 million square feet) of southern California’s commercial building rooftops in what it claims will be the nation’s largest solar cell installation. All told, the project is forecast to cost $875 million and produce enough power for 162,000 homes. Booyah.

By spreading the panels out over an already highly wired area, SCE hopes to save itself — and presumably its customers — the cost of having to install new transmission lines. Access to transmission lines is one of the leading challenges for large solar and wind power installations, which are often located in remote regions. “These are the kinds of big ideas we need to meet California‚Äôs long-term energy and climate change goals,” Gov. Schwarzenegger was quoted in the company release as saying. He also urged other utilities to follow suit.

That’s because the Governator is looking to fulfill the goals of his Million Solar Roofs Program, which has California creating 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2017. And over the next decade, the California Public Utilities Commission, through CSI, plans to provide over $2.1 billion in incentives to meet the goal.

At a slow and steady pace of 1 MW a week, SCE’s project will take a good five years to complete. The company hopes to have the first panels up and running by August.

It’s one of the most notable distributed-power projects ever undertaken by a large utility. The New York Times puts the size of the planned installation into context and says it is “10 times bigger than any previous such installation;” the NYTs notes that the largest in the U.S. is the 14 megawatts, at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and the largest in the world is 23 megawatts in Spain.

With some 100 commercial buildings slated to get SCE’s solar treatment, the project will provide work for a good number of green-collar workers. If the plan is a success, the large-scale distributed project could change the way utilities think about addressing the issue of peak load demands.