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Solar power moving forward at Santee Cooper, but the traditional grid isn’t going anywhere anytime soon


January 17, 2018   By Willard Strong in Green Energy

Santee Cooper’s Green Power Solar Pavilions at Coastal Carolina University in Conway entered commercial operation in July 2006 and are capable of producing 16 kilowatts of electricity.

Santee Cooper first introduced solar power and wind power to the state’s electric grid, and was a key player in South Carolina’s first community solar farm.

We have worked with our electric cooperative partners to introduce solar schools statewide, teaching the next generation of customers the possibilities and limitations of generating electricity from the sun.

The future is bright (OK, pun intended), but a story in the Jan. 16 edition of The Wall Street Journal caught my eyed. Its Headline: “Obstacles Still Cloud Solar Power’s Future.”

In the article, writer Christopher Mims stated that solar power has real-world shortcomings that must be overcome before it can advance at a brisker pace. He states, for example, “For solar power to meet 30 percent of the world’s electricity needs, it will need to fall from its current cost of a dollar per watt of electricity to 25 cents per watt, says Varun Sivaram, a science and technology expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit think tank.”

The way to do that, Savaram assets, is to mass produce solar cells from cheaper materials, not traditional silicon. Another problem is overcoming the problem posed by utility-scale power storage. We’re talking big-time batteries to store solar energy. There’s a demand for it.

As Mims states, California, which gets 10 percent of its power from the sun, routinely has a problem with too much solar power during the day when it’s at optimum production.

“On some sunny days,” Mims states, “it (California) has to pay other states to take (solar) electricity off its hands.” Who knew?

Then there’s the “soft cost” related to constructing a solar station. These costs, Mims states, are  “project design, permitting, siting and interconnection to the grid.” According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these soft costs represent up to 64 percent of a solar installation’s cost.”

While these problems exist, Santee Cooper and other utilities will continue to advance solar energy whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself. But the grid and the different ways Santee Cooper generates power will be around for the foreseeable future. Stay tuned.