Monday, December 15, 2014

Some Truly Sunny News

Happy to share that the U.S.A just crossed the 1% line for solar power generation. Capturing power directly from the sun while generating little pollution -- and actually done in a way that could be profitable -- much to celebrate here!  What is really exciting are the breakthroughs in being able to store solar power as well.

First story below is the most recent update on solar from Sustainable Business.  Below that is a great story about the first all solar power plant that launched last year.

U.S. solar crosses 1 percent threshold this year

Solar Panel
Flickr Theodore Scott

This article first appeared at
It's projected that solar will supply 1 percent of U.S. electricity by the end of this year, thanks to the enormous utility-scale solar plants that now dot the west.
That percentage is, of course, small, but it represents gigantic growth — over 100 percent this year as compared to the same period in 2013, said Pete Danko at Breaking Energy. And if you look back to 2008, there was basically zero solar in this country.

In the first nine months of 2014, utility-scale solar produced 0.4 percent of U.S. electricity — 12,303 gigawatt-hours (GWh) supplying 1,513,703 homes — compared to 6,048 GWh in the same period of 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Add in rooftop, commercial PV and more utility-scale plants coming online and we get to 1 percent this year.

Topaz comes online

In late October, the largest solar plant in the world began full commercial operations, the 550 megawatt (MW) Topaz Solar PV project.

Owned by Buffet's utility, MidAmerican Solar, 9 million solar panels cover 9.5 square miles in California's San Luis Obispo county. Construction began in 2012 and finished before the early 2015 delivery date. Built by First Solar on "disturbed farmland," the project received no government subsidies.

First Solar is also close to completing another 550 MW project, Desert Sunlight (owned by NextEra, GE, Sumitomo) and SunPower is more than half finished building Solar Star for 579 MW (owned by MidAmerican).

Last week, Abengoa's 280 MW Mojave Solar farm near Los Angeles starting sending electricity to 90,000 homes.
More big PV projects are coming:
  • McCoy — 750 MW in Blythe, Calif., owned by NextEra
  • Tranquillity Solar — 400 MW in Fresno County, Calif., will be built by Recurrent Energy in eight phases,  also on disturbed farmland
  • Redwood Solar Farm — 135 MW in Kern County, Calif., built by 8minutenergy Renewables
"If it hadn't been for these projects, I can't tell you how many people would have lost their homes or cars," Kevin Cole of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers told the Fresno Bee. "It's been a godsend."

At least five projects have been shelved or rejected in California because of potential wildlife impacts or lack of financing: Rio Mesa, Hidden Hills, Palen, Silurian Valley and Rice Solar.

Problems ahead

Going forward, several issues are coalescing to make it much harder for brand new projects:

  • Utilities are getting close to meeting California's Renewable Portfolio standard, which requires 33 percent renewables by 2020. Unless that goal is raised, utilities are showing less interest in signing long-term power contracts.
  • Having signed power contracts in hand is critical for getting projects financed.
  • The federal tax credit goes from 30 percent of a project's construction cost to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Projects have to be finished to receive the subsidy, which is less likely as we get closer to that date.
  • Projects are costing more than expected because of stringing requirements to mitigate their environmental impact.
"The government and everyone keep saying we need to replace oil, we need renewable energy," Mark Jabin, an owner of the land where Rice would be built, told The Desert Sun. "And then they don't extend this 30 percent tax credit, and they give a deadline that makes it impossible to build new plants at the present time."

The solar industry is lobbying Congress to extend the 30 percent investment tax credit, or at the very least, change the law so that projects that begin construction by the end of 2016 can qualify (as they did for the wind PTC).

Their best hope may be in California, where AB327 — signed into law last year — makes the 33 percent renewables requirement a floor rather than a ceiling, giving the California Energy Commission the authority to mandate more use of renewables by utilities.

"There's no question that uncertainty in the marketplace is creating a lot of angst for investors and project developers," Ken Johnson of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told The Desert Sun.
While we're not crazy about more huge power plants consuming open space and habitat, it's a shame because most of the big plants are performing better than expected and thanks to the big drop in price, new ones can be built much more cheaply. And they create thousands of jobs.


First US Solar Plant That Stores Energy Is Online in Arizona News

It's a watershed moment for US solar this week as the Solana Solar Concentrating Plant comes online in Arizona - the first time a solar plant is producing energy at night.

Built by Spain-based Abengoa, molten salt technology stores the heat produced from solar energy throughout the day and then releases it slowly at night. The plant can operate at full capacity for six hours after sunset, which coincides with peak demand in Arizona. Not bad - a solar plant that produces energy 18 hours a day!

Located about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona Public Service Company is buying all the electricity from the 280 megawatt (MW) plant, which will serve 70,000 people.
Solar Solana Arizona
With the addition of Solana, the utility has 750 MW of solar, enough to serve 185,000 homes.

The US is now home to two of the world's biggest concentrating solar plants. Last week, the Ivanpah came online in California - at 377 MW, it is the world's biggest concentrating solar plant.

The two plants use different concentrating solar technologies: Ivanpah uses solar tower technology and Solana uses parabolic solar.  

How Solana Works
 Solana is the world's biggest parabolic solar plant, consisting of 2700 long rectangular mirrors that track the sun during the day, focusing its heat on pipes. It heats synthetic oil inside the pipes to super-hot 735 degrees Fahrenheit. The oil flows to steam boilers where it heats water to create steam. The steam drives two 140 MW turbines to produce electricity, much like a traditional power plant. 
Solar Solana1

Super-heated oil is also sent to chambers that contain molten salt. When the sun goes down, the molten salt keeps the fluid hot enough to create steam. 
"With Solana's substantial thermal heat storage capacity, we can manage electrical output from the plant much more effectively than from other solar power sources," says Pat Dinkel of Arizona Power. "With photovoltaic technology, generated electricity needs to be used immediately or it's lost. Solana's technology extends the use of solar energy to produce power whenever our customers need it most, including evenings."

While most solar plants generate just 20% of their rated capacity over the course of a year, Solana reaches 38% because of its ability to store energy. But that's true only during the summer when the days are long. During winter, Solana will produce energy for only 8 hours, two hours less than a solar PV system would, according to Arizona Public Service Company.

The utility expects power from Solana to add $1.28 a month to a typical bill. That drops to $1.09 a month after five years and $0.94 after 10 years.

Construction of Solana created 2000 solar jobs, and most components are locally made. A mirror manufacturing factory near Phoenix opened to supply all 900,000 mirrors for the project. In all, 70% of components are Made in the USA. 

In 2010, the Department of Energy gave Abengoa a $1.45 billion loan guarantee to help Solana get financing for the $2 billion project. Indeed, the project would have come online sooner if it had an easier time finding financing.

At the time, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said, "This is yet another example of stimulus funds helping to lead our nation's and Arizona's economy back to recovery, while transitioning our energy policies to allow us to become a national and world leader in alternative energy generation.  
Abengoa (MCE: ABG) is also building the Mojave Solar Project (250 MW), another parabolic trough plant, in California.

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