NRG sees small solar as more powerful, distributed generation as a force

David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, knows how to get an audience’s attention.

“Solar and wind are going to part ways,” he said at a recent conference, which is interesting coming from the head of a company that has 450 MW of wind power and grown into the largest developer of solar projects in the US with 2,000 MW of distributed and utility scale solar projects under way.

But what does that actually mean?

Wind projects have been growing larger and larger with land-based turbines now capable of generating up to 3 MW. Solar has followed suit, taking up ever larger swatches of desert.

NRG has been part of that trend with stakes in the 300-MW Agua Caliente in Arizona and the 392-MW Ivanpah project in California.

But at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Future of Energy summit in New York, Crane called the trend toward ever larger solar projects “idiotic.”

Crane doesn’t see a big future for solar power; he sees a big market for small solar, what the industry calls distributed solar, which includes rooftop solar panels.

And, as the price of photovoltaic panels continues to drop, he sees that future expanding to more and more households.

Blog entry continues below…

Request a free trial of: Megawatt Daily Megawatt Daily
Oilgram News Megawatt Daily provides detailed coverage of power prices in major US and Canadian electricity markets, up-to-date information about solicitations and supply deals, and information about complex state and federal power regulations.
Request a trial to Oilgram News

But solar is not just parting with wind in Crane’s vision, it is forming a new partnership.

“Over the next year or two the natural gas industry is going to figure out how to disintermediate the electric power business,” Crane told the audience.

There are 34 million households tied to the natural gas grid, Crane said, arguing that they are all candidates for micro turbines or fuel cells in their basements that could be programmed to kick on when the sun sets on the solar panels on the roof.

The combination of solar and gas generation in a single distributed location also would provide economies of scale for providing the support services for the solar service, Crane said.

Asked offstage if NRG is looking at buying a gas company, Crane didn’t answer. But he laughed and said he has started to study the gas distribution business.

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email

All blog comments are moderated before being published.


  1. Bogdan at January 31, 2014 6:55 am

    Interesting indeed. What about a Pareto based approach? … like in this article:

  2. Ron Harris at April 28, 2013 11:02 pm

    Kathy Larsen — I agree with your general premise on distributed generation, an issue we used to discuss ad infinitum at CEL, if you remember. Send me an e-mail sometime if you would care to catch up on electricity issues in South Carolina.

    Ron H.

  3. Mike002 at April 28, 2013 6:03 pm

    Battery improvements are coming at an 18% yearly pace.
    Solar will be cheaper then ALL OTHER Energy Sources in 7 Years.
    Put the two together, and you don’t need another cancer industry. Expansion of Natural Gas is a DEAD END for Investment.

    Not to mention the reality of these gas fields rapidly losing their productive capacity.

  4. Marilyn Walker at April 26, 2013 12:33 pm

    Solar can be small, and wind can be big, or small wind and small solar can work together at a microgrid scale. This is happening on many islands and remote villages – see

  5. Kathy Larsen at April 26, 2013 11:54 am

    David Crane is nothing if not interesting. It has been said that he has a short attention span and simply jumps onto the newest bandwagon, but in the present electricity environment, that behavior may make as much sense as anything else.
    The possibility of distributed generation grows more real all the time, and with it the specter and necessity of figuring out business models in this complex sector even as all the balls have to be kept in the air so power keeps flowing reliably. Investor-owned utilities themselves have fingered the matter as a huge one – see the Edison Electric Institute’s January report, “Disruptive Challenges …” And public power utilities have to deal with the same basic question, even though no shareholders or utility commissions are involved.
    David Roberts at Grist said as much after he read EEI’s report: “What’s needed, then, is something deeper, a more fundamental restructuring of the utility model … What would that look like? This is where I admit: hell if I know. Making utilities work is so complicated it makes my head hurt. I do know that lots of smart people are working on this problem right now, and the work they’re doing is some of the most interesting and important happening in the energy world.”


Your Comment