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FPL, FIU to Build Dual Purpose Solar Center

By Jaclyn Brandt, FierceEnergy

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) and Florida International University (FIU) have teamed up to build a commercial-scale distributed solar power facility. According to FPL, the 1.6 megawatt (MW) facility will be used for more than just to generate electricity -- it will also be used as a research center.

"This innovative solar project builds on FIU's relationship with FPL, one that provides our students with unparalleled and unique training opportunities," said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg in a statement. "Through this project, our engineering students will make a direct contribution to the growth of solar energy in our state, while gaining invaluable experience working side by side with professionals from one of the most forward-thinking utilities in the nation."

The facility will include the installation of more than 5,700 solar panels on 23 canopy structures built in the parking lot of the Engineering Center at FIU -- covering nearly 350,000 square feet. The canopies will also be used to shade 600 parking spaces on campus. The university's students will be able to use data from the solar array to study the effects of distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) generation on the electric grid.

"FPL is proud to be a leader in advancing solar energy in smart ways, making sure to keep costs low and reliability high for our customers," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "As the economics of solar continue to improve, we look forward to harnessing more and more energy from the sun. Our partnership with FIU is designed to help us manage solar power's interaction with the greater electric grid as part of our commitment to reliably deliver affordable clean energy for all of our customers."

The partnership teams up the utility and university to analyze real-life data from FPL's grid to understand weather and energy systems in Florida. It follows FIU's BeyondPossible2020 strategic plan to further energy research on campus.

Before the facility is even built, the engineering students have already begun gathering information used for their research, including historical weather data, as well as energy production and usage patterns. They will be analyzing any possible technology that could be used in the future that are not affected by fluctuations in solar PV production due to clouds, thunderstorms, and other unavoidable phenomena -- while still maintaining grid reliability.

"FPL is fortunate to have such a respected research institution with which to partner right in our backyard," Bryan J. Olnick, vice president of power delivery distribution and operations for FPL and a member of FIU's Advisory Council for the College of Engineering and Computing, said in a statement. "The in-depth analysis of data from the solar panels will help us continue to advance affordable clean energy for all of our customers."

FPL already operates three solar power plants in the state, and the newest partnership will help reach their goal of tripling its solar generation in Florida by 2016 -- in January, FPL made the announcement that it plans to add 225 MW to its current capacity of 110 MW.

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