All solar is good, but rooftop solar is better | Commentary

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida had the biggest growth of solar installations in the United States during the first half of 2023. I say all solar is “good solar”, but rooftop solar is better than utility scale solar farms. The costs of all the land, the problems with large scale transmission and the amount of land needed to become 100% renewable is breathtaking.

Forty seven percent of Florida’s electricity could be met by rooftop solar alone according to the National Renewable Energy Lab (part of the US Department of Energy). So yes, we will need solar farms but not as many as the utilities are planning.

According to a Florida Trend article, FPL is planning the use of 2% of all the land in Florida for solar farms…bigger than Duval County. OUC plans to use the land equivalent to 69% of the city of Orlando. This land costs a lot of money. “Finding large tracts of land at a cost-effective price is the biggest challenge,” said TECO spokesperson Cheri Jacobs. FPL recently spent $348.5 million on 40,000 acres for solar. That money that utility customers will pay for could be used to lease rooftops from the utility’s customers, saving money for everyone.

We know that transmission lines get knocked down in hurricanes. Fires in Hawaii and California were probably caused by windblown transmission lines. These transmission lines also lose about 5% of the power that they transmit. Rooftop solar is generated in the neighborhood that uses the power, minimizing the need for transmission towers and saving the lost power and the cost of the land.

Florida solar farms have a cloud problem. The cloud’s shadow can reduce production at a large solar farm. Rooftop solar is distributed so that clouds in Conway cut production but it might still be sunny in Pine Hills or Dr. Phillips where lots of rooftop energy would be produced.

Dr. James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center, spoke to the Florida Public Service Commission and told them that rooftop solar is cheaper than utility scale solar primarily because of the costs associated with transmission.

We need to get our electricity locally. Besides homes, schools, big box stores, strip centers, multi-family rentals and parking lots can be locations for solar. I recognize that not everyone can afford rooftop solar but if the utilities change their business model to lease roofs and site batteries in homes, businesses and neighborhoods, power outages would only affect those at the center of a storm and electricity costs would probably be less.

Michael Cohen of Orlando is the co-founder of Solar United Neighbors Florida.