A plan proposed by Southern California Edison (SCE) for the largest U.S. installation of advanced solar panels on otherwise unused large commercial rooftops across Southern California has been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.

During the next five years SCE will install, own and operate 250 MW of solar generating capacity. The utility also will conduct competitive solicitations offering long-term power contracts to independent solar power providers who will install an additional 250 MW, bringing to 500 MW the total generating capacity of the project — the largest photovoltaic program ever undertaken.

“This innovative solar rooftop project is part of Edison International’s 25-year commitment to developing cleaner renewable and alternative energy sources for our customers,” said Theodore F. Craver, Jr., Edison International chairman and CEO. “The program will create hundreds of neighborhood solar power plants, strengthen local grid reliability and produce hundreds of new green jobs to bolster Southern California’s economic recovery.”

During the fall of 2008, SCE completed the first of what eventually will be about 150 sites making up this program, a 600,000-square-foot Fontana, Calif. distribution warehouse roof. The rooftop now holds 33,700 advanced thin-film solar panels with a generating capacity of 2.4 megawatts of direct current power, known as DC power — the largest single rooftop solar photovoltaic array in the nation. SCE already has begun construction of its second installation atop a 458,000-square-foot industrial building in Chino, Calif. First Solar of Tempe, Ariz. was the winning bidder to supply panels for these first two installations.

Based on this regulatory approval, competitive solicitations will take place for the remaining roof leases and equipment needed for the 250 megawatts of facilities SCE will install and operate. A limited number of ground mounted installations also will be considered as part of SCE’s solar program. Competitive solicitations also will take place for 250 megawatts of long-term power contracts SCE will offer independent power providers who construct similar solar installations.

Potential Benefits

SCE sees numerous benefits to customers, the region and the state from its massive solar project. The program will provide a new generation source to areas where customer demand is rising. The solar modules can be connected directly and quickly to the nearest neighborhood circuit while major new renewable energy transmission lines are being built. Additionally, the output of solar panels generally matches peak customer demand — lower in the morning and evening, higher in the afternoon. Also, the project will allow SCE grid engineers to study the electrical effects of a high penetration of photovoltaic on distribution circuits. The information gained will be shared with the industry.

SCE anticipates its solar power project will create as many as 800 new green jobs in Southern California in the solar industry. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one of SCE’s project partners, is supporting the project through the expansion of its solar installation apprentice training program.