Harnessing the power of the Florida sun

The Tampa Electric Company has decided to harness the power of the Florida sun. Now the Tampa Bay area is home to a new solar power facility.


The Tampa Electric Company has decided to harness the power of the Florida sun.

Now the Tampa Bay area is home to a new solar-power facility.

Here's the story.

This 110-acre site is the location for the newest and largest solar-power installation for the Tampa Electric Company.

The planning and construction of this project was a major undertaking.

It took us about six months to get to the point where we had a contractor on board and we had the location selected for us to move forward with the project.

It took us about another six months to get through the design phase and get the permitting in place through the different agencies and then about six months to get it built.

And we went in commercial operation in the middle of February of 2017.

Due to the proximity to a salt-water bay and being located in a hurricane/flood zone, special considerations were taken.

The site in itself has a slope of 5 feet from the front to the back.

And we had to have everything above the floodplain.

We put in over 14,000 steel posts, and because of the soil conditions, the steel posts that we used had to be galvanized, and then we had an epoxy coating on them.

And as we put everything together, we had to account for the fact that, this being a hurricane state, everything had to meet 135-mile-an-hour wind conditions.

During the construction phase, project manager Guy Morris had to make sure the job was completed on time and on budget.


One of the nice items about having a 100-acre site is -- you can have a lot of different activities going on in, you know, several spots within the facility.

Now, at any given time, we had over 200 local workers that were here doing all the installation work for the panels and the electrical underground work and all the tie-in work that we had to do.

We have a little over 202,000 modules that are on this site.

Each one of them is about 26 pounds, about 2x4 They are a thin-film technology, newest technology that works well in Florida because of our high-humidity conditions, work much better in the fact that we do have a lot of rain in Florida, and the efficiencies are higher for the location here in Florida.

One of the other things that we did is -- we ended up selecting a tracking system, where the panels rotate and follow the sun all throughout the day.

We move them in groups of 6,000 at a time.

They move 144 times throughout the day.

So, they start at an angle of 45 degrees, pointed due east, and by the end of the evening, they are pointing due west, following and tracking the sun each step of the way.

That gives us a much higher efficiency on the power output, but it also gave us additional challenges, because with the 135-mile-an-hour wind rating, we had to have a system that was robust enough to withstand any hurricanes that we might have.

And how do the sun's rays become electrical power for our homes?

The sun is hitting these thin-film solar panels.

In there, it's converted into a D.C. voltage.

Each one of the panels puts out about 114 watts of power.

We ended up with a little over 20,000 panels tied together into an inverter skid.

We had the inverter that took it from a D.C. power to an A.C.


And right next to it, we had a transformer that changed the power voltage to a voltage that we could use for transmission and to be able to tie everything together and bring it out of the station.

So, we're at a little bit less than 20 megawatts of A.C.

power is what this facility puts out, which covers about 3,300 homes.


The cost of using solar has been hotly debated.

Thomas Hernandez, senior vice president of business strategies and renewables at Tampa Electric, explains why they did this project now.

Every generating technology has a cost to procure, engineer, and to build the asset, and so that can be referred to as 'overnight construction costs.' And to compare various technologies, you would look at the cost per megawatt.

The cost of solar PV technology is relatively higher than other fossil-type units -- natural-gas or coal-fired units.

You have to look at not only the construction costs, but you also have to look at the operating costs on a dollar-per-megawatt hour or cents-per-kWh output over the life of the asset.

So, that's where solar PV is now getting more cost-competitive, compared to other traditional coal- and natural-gas-fired-type units.

And the cost for the construction of this solar field is priced at $2 per watt.

Gas-fired plants run 67 cents to $2 per watt, depending on the technology used.

Although solar photovoltaic panels offer great promise, there is a limit to how much we can depend on this energy source at the current time.

As it turns out, there is a theoretical maximum amount of solar PV generation or other renewable-type generation that can be integrated into a utility system.

And it's simply because you have to have enough other generating capacity to offset, pretty quick -- it's almost instantaneously -- the loss of your solar PV or wind power, whatever it is.

And, so, around 18% to 20% of your generating capacity is about what most utilities will target as the ceiling.


Besides big savings in fuel, there is a major benefit to the environment.

So, from a company perspective, we're able to reduce our environmental footprint by significantly reducing the air emissions, the impact on water and land.

Solar power basically has the effect of reducing our CO2, our carbon dioxide emissions, our nitrogen oxide emissions, and our sulfur dioxide emissions.

Even though we have environmental controls on all of our generating technologies, it will further reduce those emissions and reduce the operating costs for those assets.

As long as the sun's shining, it's a benefit to both the customer and to the company.