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New Florida Battery Storage Project Brightens Solar Energy

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You don’t need to be an expert in energy management to figure out that renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power are dependent on the wind and the sun respectively. Just peek outside and look at the weather. Solar panels require sunlight to create energy, and wind turbines rely on an abundance of wind to do the same thing. But energy demand remains fairly constant no matter the weather, which is why utilities and other power producers store renewable energy in batteries to save up for a rainy day, so to speak.

Battery storage has become an increasingly important part of the renewable energy industry in the United States. By using batteries to store extra wind and solar power connected to the grid, energy providers can cover themselves during periods of insufficient sun and wind. This in turn makes renewable energy projects more financially feasible.

The last three months of 2020 saw more energy-related batteries powered up in the U.S. than the previous seven years combined, according to data from research firm Wood Mackenzie and the U.S. Energy Storage Association. 

Battery storage is about to grow even bigger thanks to a new project by Florida Power & Light (FPL), a Juno Beach, Fla.-based energy company that serves more than 10 million customers in the Sunshine State. FPL recently began construction on what has been described as the world’s biggest solar-powered battery storage project. 

FPL, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, announced the 409-megawatt project two years ago and began moving dirt on it in January. Dubbed the FPL Manatee Energy Storage Center, it should be up and running by the end of 2021. At the time the project was announced, FBL said it will be four times the size of the world’s largest battery system then in operation. 

Once completed, the facility will be able to distribute 900 megawatt-hours of electricity or enough to power roughly 329,000 homes for two hours. It will be charged by an existing FPL solar plant in Manatee County in southwest Florida and help the utility speed up the process of retiring a pair of 1970s-era natural-gas-fired plants.

“Bringing the world’s largest integrated solar-powered battery to Florida showcases to the world our state’s engineering and high-tech capabilities, and is yet another example of FPL’s relentless focus on challenging the status quo and embracing innovative technology to deliver America’s best energy value,” EPL Chief Executive Eric Silagy said in a statement.

The Manatee Energy Storage Center is part of a broader plan by FPL to expand its use of newer, cleaner sources of energy. The utility has plenty of expertise to draw on. Its sister company, NextEra Energy Resources, bills itself as the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from wind and sun.

FPL aims to leverage NextEra’s expertise with large-scale renewable and storage projects elsewhere in the U.S. to lower both its carbon footprint and its costs. Replacing its two gas-fired plants in Florida with the mix of solar arrays, battery installations and upgrades at other power plants should save consumers $100 million over time, the utility said.

Meanwhile, federal lawmakers look to speed up the development of next-generation energy storage through the Better Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Act, which was recently signed into law. The act, authored by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), is designed to support grid-scale energy storage research and development and also improve the efficiency of the nation’s electric grid while helping to align research efforts on energy storage technologies.

“Energy storage technology holds such great promise in the fight against climate change,” Sen. Collins said in a press release. “Supporting current technology and advancing next-generation energy storage will allow us to integrate more renewables, such as wind and solar, which in turn will help to reduce emissions.”

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