Magazine Post: From 35 Mules to 30 Million Solar Panels

From 35 Mules to 30 Million Solar Panels

Florida Power & Light Company helps build toward a cleaner energy future

What was once a swampland featuring alligators as roadside attractions has transformed into the third most populous state in the nation. The dramatic influx of new Florida residents in recent years means an increase in the demand for services, including a lot of electricity. One company is rising to the challenge and becoming a leader in clean energy along the way.

“Florida is a rapidly growing state and on the front lines of climate change and frequently severe weather — all of which we must recognize and prepare for,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company (FPL). “That’s why we’re committed to building a more resilient and sustainable energy future that all of us can depend on — including future generations — by continuing to make proven, long-term investments in infrastructure, clean energy and innovative technology.”

Even though FPL — a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, the world’s largest producer of power from solar and wind — is the state’s largest electric utility company, it grew from humble beginnings. The company started in 1925 as a conglomeration of small enterprises, including an ice plant, a sponge fishing boat and 35 mules.

Fast forward almost a hundred years, and the company has replaced its mules with a promise to install 30 million solar panels by 2030 with its revolutionary “30-by-30” plan. To date, the company has installed 12 million solar panels and counting. Silagy says it’s a move that makes sense for the environment and FPL’s 5.6 million customers.

“Investing in a cleaner, more sustainable energy source like solar is the right thing to do for Florida,” explained Silagy. “By 2030, FPL projects it will generate 40% of its electricity from zero-emissions sources with solar and energy storage being responsible for half of that energy generation. That will help us protect Florida’s diverse ecosystems while keeping customer bills low and reliability high.”

The company first started studying solar in the mid-1980s. Then, in 2010, FPL built its first ever large-scale solar energy center. By 2016, the company was building solar energy centers that were three times the size of the inaugural solar site and less expensive, allowing the company to capture economies of scale to save customers money. 

“We’ve always wanted to bring the benefits of solar to our customers, but the trick was finding a way to balance customer bills with the need for more clean energy,” explained Silagy. “Large-scale solar energy centers hit the sweet spot. As the price of solar panels declined, we were able to install more solar, more affordably — and now, nobody in America is building more cost-effective solar than FPL.”

Charging toward a more sustainable future with innovative battery storage technology


FPL Manatee Energy Storage Center

FPL is also working on energy storage solutions to fully leverage the benefits of solar technology. Solar is a variable energy source, which means the amount of solar energy generated can vary based on the weather and seasons, as well as at nighttime when the sun is “turned off.” Energy storage enables the company to store excess solar energy when the sun is shining and deploy it when it’s needed most, such as at night or on a cloudy day. The company is building the world’s largest solar powered battery storage facility on Florida’s west coast. The FPL Manatee Energy Storage Center will be charged by a nearby solar energy center and will be able to store enough clean energy to power approximately 329,000 homes for more than two hours.

“Effective energy storage is essential for a clean energy future,” said Temperince Morgan, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “We need to explore all available solutions in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and implementing new technology, like FPL’s large-scale battery storage project, is critical to building a cleaner, more affordable and more sustainable energy future. The solutions we forge today are fundamental to our economy, our communities and our planet, now and for future generations.”

FPL’s clean energy story doesn’t end there. The company is also investing in electric vehicles (EVs) through its FPL EVolution program. This innovative pilot program improves the state’s current EV infrastructure by installing charging ports across FPL’s service territory.

“As someone who has crisscrossed the state and logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of an EV, I can tell you that range anxiety is real, but our EVolution program is helping drive the state toward a more sustainable energy future by making electric vehicle charging ports more accessible,” said Silagy. 

Stewardship to protect and preserve the planet

FPL isn’t just committed to advancing clean energy. It’s also committed to being an industry leader in environmental protection and stewardship, including wildlife and habitat protection. As part of that commitment, FPL has partnered with Audubon Florida — an organization that advocates for the protection of land, water and wildlife — to ensure its solar energy centers are good stewards of the environment. 

The company’s commitment to stewardship begins long before the construction of any solar site. During development, FPL identifies the presence of threatened or endangered species as well as ecologically important areas like wildlife corridors and wetlands. FPL then works with Audubon Florida and other local organizations to craft site-specific environmental plans which can include planting native plants to make solar energy centers more bird and pollinator friendly, as well as installing nest boxes and T-perches to improve habitat conditions.


Manatee Lagoon – An FPL Eco-Discovery Center®

This isn’t FPL’s only environmental stewardship initiative. Another example is Manatee Lagoon – An FPL Eco-Discovery Center® that the company built and operates as an environmental education center. It is designed to help visitors understand Florida’s manatees and their surrounding ecosystem, and it’s located next to the company’s Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center, where manatees gather during winter to take advantage of the plant’s warm water outflow. 

As part of Manatee Lagoon’s mission, FPL has forged a partnership with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to create exciting educational opportunities for Florida teachers, students and families. This unique educational platform was designed to help communities learn about Florida’s wildlife and how it can be preserved for future generations.

“We’re excited to partner with FPL on our K-12 Education Initiative,” said Dr. Guy Harvey. “It’s vital that we collaborate with companies that have the same vision as we do for a cleaner, sustainable future. FPL’s commitment to expanding their solar farms and protecting critical animals like manatees is a great illustration of their social responsibility and why we’re proud to call them a partner.”

All roads lead to solar energy

There is no instruction manual for building a cleaner energy future, but for FPL, all roads lead back to solar. Its solar build-out allows the renewable energy source to help power almost everything we use in our daily lives. It certainly seems like solar is fundamental to FPL’s secret sauce, but Silagy tells us there is more than one ingredient.

“We don’t want to simply install solar panels,” said Silagy. “We want to continue making forward-thinking, cost-effective investments on behalf of our customers because we have a responsibility to do right by the future generations of Floridians. We started from humble origins, and nearly a century later, we’re still challenging ourselves to be even better so that we set our future generations up for success and demonstrate to the world that Florida is a leader in clean energy and sustainability. This requires us to embrace fresh ideas and not be afraid to disrupt ourselves along the way.” 


FPL EVolution fast charging stations in Yulee, Florida.

FPL EVolution Electric Vehicle Charging Program

  • Launched in 2019, FPL EVolution is an innovative pilot program designed to boost Florida’s EV infrastructure, support EV adoption and increase range confidence.
  • The program will install over 1,000 charging ports at more than 100 locations across FPL’s service area by the end of 2021.
  • Once complete, FPL EVolution will increase the availability of universal EV charging stations in Florida by 50%.
  • Included in the charging network is an 800-mile stretch of fast charge stations capable of powering up most car batteries in about 30 minutes.
  • With the fast charge network, drivers can charge approximately every 50 miles along major highways and corridors, such as Florida’s Turnpike and I-95.
  • The pilot program also includes Level 2 chargers at workplace and destination locations.
  • In addition to accelerating the adoption of EVs, this high-tech electric vehicle initiative will generate valuable data to help ensure the continued reliability of the energy grid for all FPL customers.
  • EV drivers can download the FPL EVolution app to find and navigate to the closest FPL EVolution charging station, check port availability, charging history and trends, and discover nearby amenities.

About Manatee Lagoon – An FPL Eco-Discovery Center® 

Manatee Lagoon has been educating the public about manatees and Lake Worth Lagoon for five years, and inspiring communities to preserve and protect Florida’s environment and wildlife for future generations. On cold winter days, the facility’s observation deck is the ideal spot to view manatee herds basking in the warm-water outflows from Florida Power & Light Company’s adjacent Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center. On weekdays, the center offers an observation deck to spot manatees, a solar-canopy shaded picnic area, solar trees with a new educational augmented reality 3D exhibit, and tropical grounds with picturesque views of the Lake Worth Lagoon. For more information and for updates on hours and operations, visit VisitManateeLagoon.com and to explore virtual offerings, visit VisitManateeLagoon.com/Virtual-Learning

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