Solar Power

Solar power is a form of renewable energy in which electricity is generated using sunlight. Solar power is generated from one of two types of configurations: photovoltaic arrays and concentrating solar power.

Yearly Solar Installations

Photovoltaic (PV) power

PV cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. PV technology is the dominant form of solar technology based on number of applications. It has the advantage of being modular, using PV cells to create PV panels and using PV panels to create PV arrays. These arrays can be varying sizes depending on the user’s needs and the sunlight available.

PV comes in two forms: crystalline silicon and thin-film panels. Crystalline silicon panels are the solar panels that can often be seen mounted on rooftops. They can be fixed or track the movement of the sun, which allows them to capture more sunlight. Crystalline silicon is the more efficient technology with average efficiency between 13.5% and 17.5%, with best-in-class efficiency between 17% and 19%.

Thin-film solar cells are the fastest growing segment of the PV market. In contrast to the crystalline silicon panels, the thin-film panels are amorphous and can be mounted on surfaces such as windows and skylights, making them ideal for diffuse applications. Thin-film modules have an average efficiency between 6.5% and 10% with best-in-class efficiency between 7% and 11%.

Concentrating solar power (CSP)

CSP technology uses sunlight to generate steam to power a conventional turbine and is best used in areas with high solar exposure and low humidity. Mirrors collect sunlight and focus it on a receiver that then transmits the heat to a liquid that is either used to generate steam or power an engine. Existing CSP technologies can track the sun using a one-axis or two-axis tracking system. A single axis tracker follows the sun east to west and a two-axis tracker also follows the seasonal declination of the sun. CSP plants typically require about 800 gallons of water per megawatt-hour generated for cooling purposes but this amount can be reduced by installing a dry evaporative cooling system at the expense of efficiency losses and additional installation capital.

The primary form of CSP currently in use is the parabolic trough, which uses sunlight to generate steam that spins a conventional turbine generator. The power tower is another form of CSP that redirects sunlight to generate steam and spin a conventional turbine generator. By contrast, the third form of CSP is the dish/engine system that redirects sunlight to heat liquid used to move pistons in an engine.

AEP project spotlight

Our Indiana Michigan Power subsidiary completed AEP’s first large-scale solar project in late 2015. The Deer Creek Solar Facility, just south of Marion, Indiana, can generate up to 2.5 megawatts of electricity. Three other facilities in Indiana and Michigan will begin generating solar power in 2016. Combined, the four facilities will have a capacity of nearly 15 MW and produce enough energy to power 2,000 homes annually.

AEP Position

Recent advancements in technology have allowed for significant gains to be realized in the efficiencies and cost-effectiveness of solar energy. As solar energy becomes more viable and customers are more interested in it as a resource, now is the right time to move forward with a utility-scale solar power pilot project. AEP’s Deer Creek solar installation in Indiana is an opportunity for innovation to serve our customers in new and better ways.

Deer Creek Solar
I&M’s Deer Creek Solar Facility