Supply, Demand Aligning for Solar in Virginia

Four percent of the nation’s power supply is used to power data centers. That figure will increase to 10% within the next decade. Meanwhile, major cloud providers are demanding clean energy sources consistent with their corporate values. For example, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook have joined the RE100 initiative committing them to generate 100% of their power from renewable sources.

Those numbers come from Garret Bean, vice president of development for sPower, the group behind Sustainable Power Group LLC’s proposal to build a 500-megawatt solar farm in Spotsylvania County. He spoke yesterday at the 2018 Virginia Energy Conference. Virginia Business has the story here.

It’s a lot easier to “live your values” when the price of generating a kilowatt of solar power has dropped from $96 in 1970 to about 4 cents today. Between developments on the supply side and the demand side, the potential exists to build a whole lot of solar in Virginia. Indeed, Bean counts some 212 solar companies and 22 manufacturers in Virginia vying for a piece of the action.

What makes Virginia a particularly attractive place to prospect, despite solar’s slow start here, is that the state is ground zero for building new data centers. High bandwidth connectivity is critical infrastructure for data centers, and 70% of the world’s internet traffic flows through the commonwealth.

At present Virginia gets about half of one percent of its electricity from the sun. Inherently variable solar output doesn’t create grid reliability issues until it accounts for 20% or more of the electricity supply, so there’s plenty of room to grow.

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11 responses to “Supply, Demand Aligning for Solar in Virginia

  1. I’ve had a ton of questions on solar that can’t be answered with data. Solar might be great, but other countries are ahead of us in this issue.

  2. Significant opposition in Spotsylvania County with outlandish claims of adverse impacts from solar panels.

    The claims. That it takes so much water to wash them that it will deplete wells and creeks and water will have to be trucked in.

    That the wash water is toxic and will drain into wells and local streams contaminating them.

    That birds will be killed.

    that a “heat island” will be created.

    these are just a few.

    It’s NIMBY on steroids…

    but put that aside and someone please explain why Virginia seems so much more desirable for solar these days – especially with Dominion doing all they can to discourage competitors!

    • When the Sun is particularly bright the reflection from all those solar panels will blind hang glider pilots flying above them. Why do you want to destroy Spotsylvania’s burgeoning hang gliding industry?

  3. Fossil fuels are stored solar energy. Wood is stored solar energy. Wind is a form of solar energy as the atmosphere heats and cools, moving air around. Uranium is also stored solar energy (just not from our sun, but from some earlier star’s demise.) I’ve always thought it made since to simplify and eliminate the middleman! But it still will need to be part of a mix of sources. And while 40 cents per kwh might be enormous progress, that is still about three to five times the current retail or industrial prices. But it’s coming.

    • Steve,

      The price of solar generation is 4 cents a kilowatt-hour not 40 as Jim wrote. It’s cheaper in some locations and more expensive in others. And a bit more for smaller installations. It is much cheaper than a new gas-fired plant.

      In general, it is now the cheapest form of new generation in many locations. Wind and energy efficiency can be cheaper. Solar has a fixed cost over the 30-35 year life of the solar unit.

  4. “Four percent of the nation’s power supply is used to power data centers. That figure will increase to 10% within the next decade.”

    I’m skeptical of that statement. Given continuing advances in the energy efficiency of computing that would imply a 3X to 5X increase in data centers over the next 10 years. Could the author perhaps have meant cloud data centers? That might be true but a lot of cloud capacity obviates the need for private corporate data centers.

    In any regard, more solar is a good idea and Virginia needs to get its ass out of gear. Steve Haner is right, ” … it’s coming”.

  5. Appearances, appearances. You make the point, “What makes Virginia a particularly attractive place to prospect, despite solar’s slow start here, is that the state is ground zero for building new data centers.” In fact, from a wholesale electricity point of view, that is irrelevant. That solar plant could be located in another State entirely yet cut a deal with a retail customer operating a data center in Loudoun County or Virginia Beach, as long as the plant is on the same PJM portion of the grid.

    All a Virginia location confers is the cachet of saying the source is “local” or “nearby,” plus it’s a simpler transaction if any RECs created in Virginia are sold in Virginia (RECs, “renewable energy credits,” are sold in State-organized markets not through PJM).

    I continue to believe the main driving force behind the surge in Virginia solar is not so much that the data centers are being built here, but the slight competitive edge to more southern solar generating locations in PJM where the sun angle is better and the days of cloudiness are less, the ready availability of transmission substations in Virginia to connect to, with still-cheap land nearby, plus the fact that the hitherto even better locations in NC have become saturated.

    • I would add some other considerations about why more solar:

      The data centers are the main source of new load growth in Virginia and they want to be supplied by solar. Dominion doesn’t make as much money by bringing it from out of state. Dominion has created special solar tariffs just for the data centers. But haven’t gotten all of them right according to the SCC.

      Solar is the cheapest source of new generation now and the GA has given Dominion the authority to control most of it and the ability to make a boatload of profit owning it.

      Half of new solar should be distributed ithroughout the distribution system. The big utility-scale solar attached at the transmission does not benefit the grid as much as appropriately located distributed units.

  6. Opposition to the Spotsylvania solar is .. in a word.. virulent.

    Opponents have asked the county to not allow solar as a use in the county at all!

    They show up for every meeting to speak during public comment time…

    They are single-minded in their efforts; they want the application denied… for whatever reason will work.

    Why , you’d think it was a proposal for a nuclear plant!

    North Anna is about 10 miles as the crow flies from the proposed site.

  7. There is a name for those folks: N.I.M.B.Y. AKA “the gangplank syndrome”: now that I’ve bought my tract home here, further development is out of the question.

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