In one of the nation's most ambitious projects of distributed generation, Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy recently announced it will build between 100 and 400 electricity-generating mini solar power plants throughout the state over the next two years. The company boasts the project is one of the first large-scale initiatives of its kind in the United States.

In May, the North Carolina Utilities Commission gave the project a green light when it issued a decision allowing Duke Energy to proceed with the $50 million proposal. The project will feature the installation of solar panels on the roofs and grounds of homes, schools, office buildings, shopping malls, warehouses and industrial plants. Installation will begin later this year.

According to the company, its solar initiative will be among the nation’s first and largest demonstrations of distributed generation, in which electricity is produced at numerous microgenerating sites rather than at a large, centralized, traditional power plant. Collectively, the solar sites will generate enough electricity to power 1,300 homes. The electricity will flow directly from the solar sites to the electrical grid that serves all customers.

Duke Energy will own and maintain the solar panels during their expected 25-year lifespan. The company also will own the electricity generated. It will pay a rental fee to property owners who host the panels for use of their roofs or land, based on the size of the installation and amount of electricity generated at any given site.