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.
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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.