A little more than a month after the High Springs Renewable Energy Center opened, Duke Energy cut the ribbon on the facility and celebrated the generation of one gigawatt (GW) of carbon-free energy on Wednesday.
Duke completed the 700-acre, 74.9-megawatt (MW) facility on April 14, at the same time as another site in Hildreth. Both are part of Duke's community solar program, Clean Energy Connection, which brings 10 new solar sites to North Central Florida.
“Our clients were telling us and have been telling us that they want cleaner, more reliable energy with products and services and information to provide them with more control of their energy needs,” Sharon Arroyo, Duke’s vice president of government and community relations, said in a speech.
At peak production, the High Springs site generates enough electricity to sustainably power 23,000 homes. Added to the rest of Duke’s clean energy efforts, the High Springs facility raises the carbon-free energy production to 1.2 GW, enough to power 350,000 homes.
Arroyo said the city and county were instrumental in helping the community accept Duke’s carbon-free energy effort.
High Springs was uncertain about stepping into the unfamiliar territory of solar power, Ashley Stathatos, High Springs city manager, said. Even after the project was approved, neighbors wanted buffers to block the view, but now several have asked to remove them so they can see the solar farm.
“That’s the exciting part,” Arroyo said. “The new technology, being able to bring that to a community.”
Coy Graham, project director for the High Springs site’s construction, has worked on a lot of solar facilities. This one is special for him because Duke used it to test a new technique.
“A lot of times in this business, for somebody like me, we’re building the same thing we built [before],” Graham said. “I get excited when there’s something new, and we get a chance to experiment and get the chance to be the first to work with something."
When Graham’s team installed over 220,000 solar panels, they used a single-axle racking system to turn the panels to follow the sun.
Rotating panels are not new, but normally the axles are attached to large, AC-powered motors. The new system uses smaller motors, powered by a self-contained supply of DC electricity from their own smaller solar panels.
Graham’s team tested the new system for weeks to be sure it would turn the panels properly. The small motors also risked overheating from their heavy loads, but the team figured out they could program the motors to work in 30-second intervals, with five-minute breaks between every crank to cool down.
The High Springs setup used about 3,000 small motors, while a normal plant of comparable size would only require 200 large ones. But Graham said the new system saved Duke over $1 million on the project, and so far, it has worked smoothly.
The small motors will likely reappear at future sites, two of which Duke has already planned to finish out the community solar program, one near the existing High Springs facility, and the other by Lake City.