State regulators approve $9 million in solar research grants, PG&E solar contract


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The California Public Utilities Commission approved more than $9 million in solar research grants Thursday and also gave the go-ahead to a solar contract for the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

PG&E will move forward with a 25-year power purchase agreement with NextLight Renewable Power based in San Francisco. The utility will draw energy -- an average of 590 gigawatt-hours each year – beginning in 2014 from the 230-megawatt AV Solar Ranch One photovoltaic facility being developed in the Antelope Valley.


On Thursday, commissioners also approved eight grants for the Research, Development, Deployment and Demonstration Program through the California Solar Initiative. The funding, up to $9.3 million, will go to projects focusing on integrating photovoltaics into the utility grid.

Through 2016, the program will invest $50 million. A second round of proposals is undergoing the review process which will culminate in another grant announcement in mid-2010.

The projects approved Thursday should be finished within two years. They include efforts to study and develop better distribution systems by UC Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program and PG&E, which received up to $300,000.
UC San Diego got roughly $548,000 to study solar installation performance when clouds block the sun. San Jose company SunPower Corp. was granted up to $1 million to study high-penetration photovoltaics and will also work with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District on another project.

The firm also reached a deal with Southern California Edison on Wednesday to provide around 80% of the utility’s solar photovoltaic installation program.

SunPower will deliver enough of its T5 Solar Roof Tile product to generate up to 200 megawatts, starting in the second half of 2010. Each unit combines a solar panel, frame and roof mounting system.
According to the company, the cost of SunPower’s technology met Edison’s target installed price of $3.50 a watt.

Over the next five years, Southern California Edison plans to install, own and operate 250 megawatts by placing 1- to 2-megawatt installations on vacant warehouse rooftops and connecting them to neighborhood distribution circuits.
-- Tiffany Hsu