NEWS: Google’s Solar Treasure Map; TVA Gets Ready to Throw Switch on First New Nuke Since 1996

Posted by Lexie Briggs on Aug 20, 2015 11:10:26 AM


Since it was founded in 1998, Google has revolutionized a lot of things: cartography, communication, how we retrieve information. This week, Google’s at it again, this time with advanced energy. Google announced Project Sunroof, what it calls a “treasure map” for rooftop solar. As the video announcing the project says, people already ask Google questions about solar. “There’s all this stuff to figure out,” the voiceover says, “like, how many panels do you need? Who’s going to install them? How much would you actually save? And how do you tell if your house even gets enough sun?” Between its search algorithms, calculating engines, and mapping technology, Google thinks it has the answers to these questions, and Project Sunroof is going to give them to you – if only in three locations, so far.

This marriage of what Google does best – provide massive quantities of data sorted by algorithms – and a consumer need – better information on solar potential – could be a game changer in the residential solar market. Many rooftop solar companies will produce that information for you now, if you are willing to go to their website, input your address and sometimes your average electric bill, and wait for them to get back to you with the answer.

With Project Sunroof, you get the answers immediately, before making contact with a solar company. If you like what you see, you can follow links to companies like AEE members SunPower and SunEdison (or its soon-to-be-acquired residential provider Vivint), if they’re available in your area.

So far, “your area” is limited to San Francisco Bay, Central California (Fresno), and Greater Boston, but it’s a start, and Google’s goal is to take Project Sunroof nationwide.  

This is far from the first major investment Google has made in advanced energy. Google has committed to using advanced energy to power their Mountain View Googleplex campus as well as several data centers across the country. In 2013 Google announced investment in the Atlantic Wind Connection, a multi-billion dollar transmission “backbone” for electricity eventually generated by offshore wind. Google put $300 million into a fund that finances SolarCity installations, and smart-home company Nest, which was acquired by Google, has partnered with the rooftop solar giant. (Both Nest and SolarCity are AEE members.)

Things are heating up in utility-scale solar as well. The U.S. Navy just announced the largest single purchase of solar energy by the federal government: a 25-year, 150 MW (AC) power purchase agreement. In another big development, SunEdison is breaking ground today on a 156 MW (AC) Comanche project in Colorado, which  is the biggest installation east of the Rockies.

On energy from nuclear reactions 93 million miles closer to home, the Tennessee Valley Authority is seeking an operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to bring the 1,150 MW Watts Bar unit 2 reactor online, signalling that the facility is just about complete and ready to begin operation. The last time a nuclear reactor went online was nearly 20 years ago, when Watts Bar unit 1 opened in 1996. 

Watts Bar unit 2 actually began construction in 1973, with work halted for significant several times in the interim. The new reactor features the so-called FLEX system developed by the nuclear industry in response to NRC’s Fukushima task force. FLEX involves additional backup power and emergency equipment protecting against a major disruption that threatens the cooling system.

Although nuclear energy activity in the U.S. stagnated after the late 1970s (the most recently constructed nuclear power plant dates back to 1978), nuclear energy provides nearly one-fifth of America’s electricity generation capacity. In 2012 the NRC approved two new nuclear reactors to be built in Georgia, which could be operational as early as 2016, and Florida regulators approved funds for a nuclear power plant, which could be operational by 2022.

Small modular nuclear reactors continue to develop but, as Utility Dive pointed out last month, slowly. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems has partnered with NuScale Power to develop a small nuclear reactor with a planned capacity of 600 MW, but the timeline to bring it online is unclear.

“UAMPS is still in the investigatory stage,” a spokesperson told EnergyBiz. “We haven’t yet made a final decision to go forward.”

Just how big is the advanced energy industry, and how big a role do solar and nuclear play? Check out this year’s Advanced Energy Now Market Report to find out more.

Download Advanced Energy Now  2015 Market Report

Topics: News Update