Solar Surge

on June 02, 2011 at 4:50 PM

The sun shines strong on hot summer days and soon the US may be capturing much of its power for electricity.

Solar markets have picked up in activity in recent days, both on the production and consumption side, aided by strategic boosts from the US government.

PPL Electric Utilities (PPL), in Pennsylvania, announced on Wednesday that it would purchase nearly $4 million worth of solar renewable energy credits (RECs) for use beginning in December 2011 and continuing for a period of 8.5 years.

The announcement came as a result of a PPL auction entered by 20 qualified suppliers, which set the price of the 25,500 available RECs at $149. PPL plans to hold another auction in July for 24,000 solar RECs for use beginning in June 2012.

Power companies are managing increased amounts of solar power by pairing the renewable generation with natural gas.

On the other side of the country in California this week, Competitive Power Ventures, GE Energy Financial Services and Diamond Generating Corporation announced that they were building an 800 MW natural gas plant, the CPV Sentinel, near Desert Hot Springs in Riverside Country. The $900 million project is being built by Gemma Power Systems California and is set to be finished by the summer of 2013.

Powered by eight GE Aero LMS100 turbine-generators that are specially designed to reach full load within in 10 minutes, the CPV Sentinel will act as a partner for the increasing number of solar and wind projects in California, a state that hopes to reach a goal of 33% energy from renewables in 2020. It is purposefully being built near California’s latest and largest solar project, the 1,000 MW Blythe Solar Power Project.

As part of its effort to encourage solar development, the US Department of Energy‘s (DOE) has allotted $27 million for the SunShot Initiative which is intended to ease regulations and streamline permitting procedures for homeowners, small business and communities seeking to install rooftop solar panels.

The initiative sets aside $12.5 million for enhanced streamlining and digitizing of the permitting process, a project called the Rooftop Solar Challenge, which offers incentives to local governments to install rooftop solar panels. The program provides an additional $15 million for innovations in IT systems, local zoning, building codes and local regulations to support solar development.

While the numbers involved in the latest round of solar support from the federal government are relatively small, the targeted assistance is part of efforts to leverage assistance and promote privately-funded increases in solar power generation and usage.

These initiatives “can deliver significant savings for solar energy systems and will help America to compete globally in this growing market,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.