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Wind and solar co-located on a farm in AZ

Renewable energy developer Swinerton isn’t married to photovoltaics nor wind turbines. The point is to maximize everything nature provides.

We tend to think that solar and wind energy come from different places. Indeed, the wind-power density in regions like west Texas and North Dakota is considerable, as it is in the Great Plains states in between these two.

(Offshore wind energy holds a great deal of potential but is far more common in Europe than in the U.S. The first U.S. installation became operational in late 2016 off Block Island in Rhode Island.)

Sunshine is found everywhere – sufficient to generate cost-effective photovoltaic and thermal energy as far north as Minnesota – but there are some places where it is more abundant, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Florida.

Some locations are fortunately endowed with both. Which means that combination solar and wind farms on a utility scale are now being built, such as one that I profiled for American Builders Quarterly magazine. The Swinerton Renewable Energy-built Red Horse 2 solar and wind project in Cochise County, Arizona has 16 wind turbines plus a 650-acre solar farm. Situated within two miles of each other they collectively generate 71 megawatts of energy. In the construction phase the combined project employed 800 people, part of a total investment of $110 million in materials and labor.

Cochise County, Arizona, where America's largest combined wind-solar farm generates 71MW of energy. Credit: Dustin Ferrell

Swinerton manages many of its projects after installation using a proprietary system called SOLV (“system operations live view”) to monitor and control operations. This helps to negotiate the variables of sunshine, wind and malfunctions in real time. Over time historical data is also beneficial in supplying analytical projections that enable more efficient operations. As the company’s director of planning and engineering, Erik Johnson, explained to me, improved battery technologies will “even out supply, making energy more dispatchable.”

Co-locations of wind-solar farms exist in other places (e.g., a 10 MW solar farm in Australia is adjacent to 73 wind turbines), but none not quite at the scale of Swinerton's Arizona installation. What drives it is the need to balance low output periods when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. Also, battery costs shared between the two contribute to cost efficiencies.

My takeaway is that innovation is alive and well in the renewable energy sector – and there appears to be no “silo-ing” between wind and solar professionals. It’s all part of how renewable energy charges forward toward being more available and less expensive. The only loser in this scenario is the fossil fuels industry.

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Russ Klettke

Business Writer

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