Florida Power & Light Co. plans to build 23 canopy-like structures with solar panels over about 600 parking spaces at Florida International University’s Engineering Center. The company plans to use the canopies to study the distribution of solar energy from commercial-scale arrays to the grid.
The project will cost $7 million and will include over 5,700 solar panels covering an area of 342,000 square feet. Students and faculty from FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing will study the array, which will be able to produce up to 1.6 megawatts of solar energy. They will study how clouds, thunderstorms, and other weather changes affect energy production and distribution.
Florida produces less solar energy than many other states. Less than 1 percent of FPL’s energy is generated from the sun.
FPL, which is the largest utility company in the state, recently announced that it plans to invest $400 million to triple its solar capacity. It will add almost 225 megawatts of energy at three solar farms in rural areas by 2017. FPL also announced that it plans to construct a $7 million solar canopy at the Daytona International Speedway. The company is expanding in part because the cost of solar panels has fallen significantly in recent years.
Some people believe that FPL and other electric companies have stopped residents from buying electricity from producers other than utilities to block the development of solar energy. A coalition called Floridians for Solar Choice is trying to gather 700,000 signatures to have voters decide in 2016 whether to allow people to buy solar energy from non-utility producers. Florida is one of just five states that ban the practice.