FPL and Scripps join forces in search of solar energy breakthroughs

JUNO BEACH, Fla. - In a partnership that seems fitting for the Sunshine State, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter are teaming with solar energy experts at NextEra Energy and its subsidiary, Florida Power & Light Co., to take solar technology to the next level.

NextEra and FPL, headquartered in Juno Beach, have a rooftop "living lab," which tests photo voltaic solar panels, but it has maxed out its space. Six miles to the north, Scripps plans to create a similar lab at its Jupiter campus.

Buck Martinez, FPL's senior director of development, said Scripps is beginning work on that technology seeking the "holy grail" of solar energy: a way to capture sunlight and solar energy and store it.

"That would be a game changer. The ability to store solar energy at a commercially cost-effective price would be phenomenal," Martinez said.

FPL owns and operates three solar plants and cannot increase its solar presence in Florida without action by the Florida Legislature. The Florida Public Service Commission must approve the least expensive type of electric power plant to construct, and solar is not the cheapest to build. However, it's cheaper to produce and reduces fossil fuel use.

Martinez said the idea for the collaboration came about gradually after Scripps, focused on biomedical research, arrived in Jupiter. Scripps opened its research facility here in 2009.

"Once they moved here, they realized that FPL had huge research facilities here. Our key executives were visiting some of their facilities, and the dialogue just kind of surfaced," Martinez said. The project has been in the works for about six months.

If the idea of Scripps, one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations, doing energy research seems far-fetched, it's not, said Scripps Research Professor Roy Periana, who directs the new program.

NextEra Energy and FPL energy experts will work with Scripps Energy & Materials chemists.

"What people don't realize is at the heart of energy problems, whether it is storage or better PVs (photovoltaics), it is all chemistry," Periana said.

"My role here is to take chemistry and apply it to the deep fundamental challenges we are facing with regards to energy security and climate change," Periana said.

Periana said scientists are seeking a paradigm change in areas such as solar and batteries, which are one way energy is stored. One opportunity is batteries for electric cars, he said.

"If we succeed in what we are doing, the batteries will be tiny. How do we not use lithium? How do we completely change the equation?" Periana said.

The goal is for the research to lead to less expensive solar technology, patents and to publication in scientific journals, Periana said.

Scripps plans to raise money from different sources with FPL providing initial funding. Martinez said he could not provide specific dollar amounts as details are still being worked out.

Martinez said the hope is that the partnership will be the start of a renewable energy cluster that will attract other companies.

"People will get excited about a marriage of FPL and Scripps," Martinez said.

Florida Power & Light Co.'s solar plants

Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center, Indiantown

First hybrid facility in the world to directly connect to an existing combined-cycle natural gas plant

At 75 megawatts, it is the largest solar thermal plant in the eastern U.S., generating enough power to serve 11,000 homes

DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, Arcadia

At 25 megawatts, it generates enough power to serve about 3,000 homes

Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center, Kennedy Space Center

At 10 megawatts, it provides enough energy to serve about 1,100 homes.

Will decrease fuel usage by 2.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas and 122,000 barrels of oil over its lifetime.

Source: FPL

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