Unlike a traditional, large thermal power plant, where hundreds of megawatts or even gigawatts are generated in a single geographic location, our solar facilities will be distributed all across the country and eventually, around the world.

A Distributed Solar Utility

Dan Bedell | Principal Solar

Principal Solar Inc. is executing a unique roll-up strategy to create the world's first distributed solar utility. How has your recent acquiring of the 3MW Powerhouse One solar farm in Tennessee set a standard for future acquisitions?

The Powerhouse One acquisition was the beginning of our actual acquisition cycle.   Principal Solar completed some test acquisitions of smaller facilities early on, then spent several months creating our Principal Solar Module Ratings and refining our due diligence process.  We’re now ready to begin seriously executing the acquisition stage of our growth plan.

Can you tell us what you mean by a Distributed Solar Utility?

Distributed Solar Utility refers to the concept of operating solar facilities across a wide geographic area.  Unlike a traditional, large thermal power plant, where hundreds of megawatts or even gigawatts are generated in a single geographic location, our solar facilities will be distributed all across the country and eventually, around the world.

How did the acquisition come about?

When we met the team at vis-solis, we were immediately impressed with their ability to develop and execute a profitable solar farm in a favorable market.   Agreeing on a valuation was fairly straightforward, so we were able to move directly into due diligence.   All in all, working with vis-solis was a great process.

Are there other recent or near future developments that Principal Solar has or will undertake to further the vision of a Distributed Solar Utility?

Principal Solar is now building the pipeline of potential projects that we’ll buy and/or finance.   We have a short list of solid projects and we’re looking at several others that we’re interested in across the short term.

The Principal Solar Advisory Board and Board of Directors are comprised of many luminaries in the fields of energy, finance and technology. What strengths do they bring to the table and how are their visions moving PSI forward?

Our Board of Directors and our Advisory Board are truly remarkable collections of successful, yet diverse business men and women.   We rely on their experience, their input and their relationships on a daily basis.

The Principal Solar Institute is an impartial resource to advance education and information about solar power and builds brand value for the solar industry. Can you tell us about the Solar PV Module Rating System and how this tool is helping to shape the industry?

As we envisioned what it would look like to own and operate hundreds of megawatts of solar, we realized that we desperately needed a tool to help us evaluate the hardware in which we’d be investing.  When you’re looking at investing billions of dollars in solar technology, it’s absolutely critical to understand how much electricity an individual module is expected to produce over its lifetime.  After some research, we realized that there was no tool available that would meet our needs, so we built one.   The Principal Solar PV Module Ratings are designed to help us evaluate projected lifetime energy production. We rate over ten thousand modules using criteria like Total Area Efficiency, Power at Low Irradiance to Power at High Irradiance Ratio and Annual Power Reduction to determine which modules are expected to be the best for our investment.   After we created the ratings, we determined that the value was too great for solar industry in total, so we decided to share.   The ability to compare modules based on criteria beyond nameplate rating and price is critical to any serious investor and we believe that the PSI Ratings are a critical step in raising the level of the solar industry as a whole.  In fact, we’re starting to hear from impartial entities, like Solarize Frederick County Maryland, who require use of the Ratings before selecting modules.  Anyone can view the ratings at psiratings.com.

What’s next for Principal Solar?

Principal Solar is entering the heavy acquisition period in our lifecycle.   Across the next few quarters we intend to evaluate as many quality projects as possible so that we can select the best mix for our portfolio. 

What role do you see solar playing in the future of worldwide energy? Will it complement other energy sources or stand-alone?

In the near term, it’s extremely impractical to think that solar is going to replace existing thermal generation sources.   Utility operators are going to continue operating their plants because they have fixed investments that they need to pay off.   Solar’s immediate impact is going to be on peak demand.  In the South, the West and in many urban areas, peak demand is the issue that utilities are battling.   Providing peak power frequently requires operating older, less efficient power plants, or buying power at higher prices.   Solar can immediately scale to provide peak power and as economies of scale grow and solar prices continue to drop (while fossil and nuclear power prices likely rise), solar will begin to compete as a baseload resource.   However, the current focus of Principal Solar is to push the natural benefits of solar as a complement to existing baseload generation to provide peak demand relief.

In his book, Jeremy Rifkin describes the 5 pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution  as:
Shifting to Renewable Energy / Buildings as Power Plants / Deploying Hydrogen and other storage technologies / Using Internet technology to transform the power grid / Transitioning the transport fleet to electric, plug in and fuel cell vehicles

. How does your vision fit into this scenario and can you comment on his outlook for the future and solar industry?

The biggest short term impact for solar would be a mass transition to plug in electric vehicles.   The current power grid struggles to provide sufficient peak power right now, and plugging in millions of EV’s at the end of the workday is going to tax the existing grid more than it can handle.  Utilizing solar charging while parked during the day and at home is the perfect way to move America away from dependence on hostile foreign oil and towards true energy independence.   Solar is the ideal partner with electric vehicles, and the potential for EV batteries to function as grid backup is a huge, potential untapped resource. 


Dan Bedell

Dan Bedell joined Principal Solar as executive vice president Strategic and Corporate Development following Principal Solar’s acquisition of Capstone Solar. When the Principal Solar Institute was created, Dan became the senior director responsible for outreach, communications and solar strategy.  Dan’s primary responsibilities are outreach to prospective Principal Solar strategic partners and positioning the company for strategic expansion. He co-founded Capstone Solar, a think tank for solar professionals to exchange ideas on policy and technology and a platform for peer-to-peer branding, micro-networking and interactive solar webinars.

Dan previously worked as a consultant on integration, mergers and acquisitions, focusing on strategic planning and corporate change. Prior to that, Dan was chief operating officer and director of Business Development for a Dallas-area construction company that was an early entrant into the "green" building market and the rooftop solar installation market. In that capacity, he was an advocate and evangelist for distributed solar generation in the state of Texas. He now brings that same passion for the inevitable mainstream adoption of solar power to Principal Solar.

Dan holds his B.B.A. in Economics from the University of North Texas where he graduated cum laude and spent a semester studying international finance in the UK.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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