Solar Power Coming of Age But Big and Expensive

Solar Power

Somewhere out in the Mojave desert near the border between California and Nevada, the giant Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station officially began producing electricity this week. Solar power is coming of age, but it is still big and expensive.

The huge solar farm covers about five square miles of federal land in the desert. About 350,000 large mirrors reflect the sunlight onto boilers that sit on top of three towers each about as high as a 40 story building. The extreme heat turns the water into steam and pipes feed the steam to turbines to produce enough electricity for about  140,000 homes each year.

The giant solar farm cost about $2.2 billion that includes a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee. Primary owners are BrightSource Energy, Inc., NRG Energy, INc., and Google, Inc.

BrightSource is the company responsible for developing the Ivanpah tower solar technology. Experts acknowledge that the plant is an engineering marvel, but it is unlikely that other plants like it will be built in California.

That is not because those big mirrors boiling water in the distant towers are focusing enough heat to fry birds that haplessly fly through the site. Although that could become a problem, it is not currently the major issue.

Two economic factors have merged that make building future giant plants using this technology unlikely. First, the funds for the federal guarantees that were available for these projects is pretty much used up. On top of that, California has as much of this kind of energy as it is likely to need.

In 2002, fiercely committed to fighting global warming, California ordered its utility companies to buy more renewable power with the requirement that by 2020, a  third of their electricity must come from renewable sources.

That inspired the construction of several huge solar power plants, particularly in the desert where land is plentiful and they can capture the blazing sunshine. With these plants coming online and others currently under construction, California’s utilities probably will not need more.

The fact is that these large solar plants are expensive. Ivanpah requires massive amounts of land and the cost is nearly four times more that a traditional natural gas plant — all that for much less electricity.

The cost of the power produced by the giant solar farms will likely be more than twice the cost of power from conventional sources. What the actual cost may finally be has not been disclosed, but it will certainly be passed on the consumers. Even as solar power comes of age, big and expensive installations are already becoming out dated.

In fact, solar power appears to be nearing some kind of transition point. Projects for the huge solar plants like Ivanpah that were under consideration have been dropped. The issue of the scorched birds is beginning to raise concern and enormous land use and high costs also make them less attractive.

The companies may look  globally to find new projects. Africa, Saudi Arabia, and China all look like viable prospects.

The technology is also growing and changing. The cost more common photovoltaic panels that sit on top of buildings and convert the sun’s energy directly to electricity has dropped significantly. As solar power comes of age, the industry is shifting away from big and expensive installations and toward rooftops.

By Sharon I. Fawley

Sources:

The Wall Street Journal
SFGate
Reuters

RSS Guardian Express

  • NBA Playoffs Toronto Raptors Pull Even With Brooklyn Nets After Game Two April 23, 2014
    The Toronto Raptors came into their game two Tuesday night tilt with the Brooklyn Nets hoping to pull even in their NBA playoff series. The Raptors overcame another slow start in game two to take a 45-39 lead heading into the half. Despite committing eleven turnovers in the first half, the Raptors were able to […]
    Eric Kummel
  • ‘Friends’ Reunion Not Happening Says Courteney Cox [Video] April 23, 2014
    If anyone out there was holding on to a thread of hope that there just might be some sort of Friends reunion in the works, Courteney Cox has made it clear that it will not be happening. At least, not anytime soon. Cox appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman on Monday evening, most likely […]
    Josh Taub
  • Men Can Stop Trying to Sound Sexy April 23, 2014
    Men can stop trying to sound sexy because, according to a new study, it just does not work. While women are capable of adjusting their voices to sound sexy, a new study found that men are unable to do the same. Society has come up with a stereotype of what sexy sounds like, and apparently […]
    Ashley Campbell
  • Startup Companies Are Sprouting Quickly and Empowering Hundreds April 23, 2014
    The inventors of today’s world have unleashed more resources and equipment of a technological kind than any previous decade or generation, and that blessing is only widening exponentially as startup companies are empowering hundreds as they sprout up in many areas. There are more entrepreneurs, technology developers, social media experts, and business gurus
    Brad Johnson
  • Keyshawn Johnson Arrested After Fight With Ex-Girlfriend April 23, 2014
    Former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson was arrested and jailed after a fight with his ex-girlfriend that reportedly resulted in a gash to the woman’s hand. The Los Angeles County Sherriff’s deputies arrested and charged the ESPN analyst with misdemeanor spousal battery early Monday, after responding to a call at his home in Calabasas, California, according […]
    Rick Sarlat

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 630 other subscribers

Quantcast