Tag Archives: Large-scale Solar Development

A Huge Solar Plant Caught on Fire, and That’s the Least of Its Problems

By Sarah Zhang, WIRED

Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar plant, is a glittering sea of mirrors, concentrating sunlight into three glowing towers. It is a futuristic vision rising out of the Mojave desert. But from the day the plant opened for business in 2014, critics have said the technology at Ivanpah is outdated and too finicky to maintain.

The latest problem? A fire at one of the plant’s three towers on Thursday, which left metal pipes scorched and melted. As the plant dealt with engineering hiccups, Ivanpah initially struggled to fulfill its electricity contract, and it would have had to shut down if the California Public Utilities Commission didn’t throw it a bone this past March. “Ivanpah has been such a mess,” says Adam Schultz, program manager at the UC Davis Energy Institute and former analyst for the CPUC. “If [the fire] knocks them offline, it’s going to further dig them in.” On top of the technical challenges, the plant has had to deal with PR headaches like reports of scorched birds and blinded pilots from its mirrors.

Ivanpah’s biggest problem, though, is hard economics. When the plant was just a proposal in 2007, the cost of electricity made using Ivanpah’s concentrated solar power was roughly the same as that from photovoltaic solar panels. Since then, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels has plummeted to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (compared to 15 to 20 cents for concentrated solar power) as materials have gotten cheaper. “You’re not going to see the same thing with concentrated solar power plants because it’s mostly just a big steel and glass project,” says Schultz. It can only get so much cheaper.

Read full article at WIRED

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Why Rooftop Solar Advocates Are Upset About California’s Clean-Energy Law

By Ivan Penn, The Los Angeles Times

California’s aggressive push to increase renewable energy production comes with a catch for people with solar panels on the roof: You don’t count.

If a home or business has a rooftop solar system, most of the wattage isn’t included in the ambitious requirement to generate half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030, part of legislation signed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown.

That means rooftop solar owners are missing out on a potentially lucrative subsidy that is paid to utilities and developers of big power projects. It also means that utility ratepayers could end up overpaying for clean electricity to meet the state’s benchmark because lawmakers, by excluding rooftop solar, left out the source of more than a third of the state’s solar power.

Owners of rooftop solar systems and their advocates aren’t happy about the policy…The rooftop solar industry and consumer advocates say opposition to including rooftop solar in California’s renewable energy mandate came from large developers that feared competition for subsidies as well as unions that were upset because rooftop solar installers typically aren’t members.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Times

Solar Power’s Pathway to Energy Supremacy

By Philip Wolfe, Renewable Energy World

In my previous article, I showed that there are no technological, resource or land area constraints that would prevent solar power from delivering any proportion of the world’s electricity needs, up to and including 100 percent. My follow up article illustrated how its viability is a function of the solar resource, declining capital costs, and their relation to traditional electricity prices. It showed why solar is already the low-cost option in places like Chile, and projected that this so-called ‘grid parity’ will progressively extended to other parts of the world. How fast that happens will depend in part on logistics, but primarily on regulatory issues; so this final article addresses in particular the politics of rolling out utility scale solar generation.

Before developing the key proposition further, let me briefly note how fast the sector is progressing. When the first article was published in April (2015) it showed that installed utility scale solar capacity was equivalent to 0.3 percent of global electricity usage. That figure has climbed to 0.33 percent. More countries are now active in utility-scale solar, with nearly 30 countries boasting a capacity of 100 MW or more.

Read full article from Renewable Energy World

Interior Department, State of California Announce Innovative Strategy for Renewable Energy and Conservation on Public Lands in California Desert

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird today announced the final environmental review of an innovative landscape-scale blueprint to support renewable energy development and conservation on 10 million acres of federal public lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the California desert. The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Phase I of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) is a major step forward, and a key part of the collaborative effort to streamline renewable energy while conserving unique and valuable desert ecosystems and promoting outdoor recreation opportunities.

The blueprint is part of a larger, comprehensive effort with California, covering 22 million acres in the state’s desert region. Collectively, these lands contain the potential to generate up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy development, while meeting federal and state renewable energy and climate change goals through 2040.

Phase I of the DRECP, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, designates Development Focus Areas with high-quality solar, wind and geothermal energy potential, access to transmission and would allow impacts to be managed and mitigated. Applications will benefit from a streamlined permitting process with predictable survey requirements and simplified mitigation measures, and Interior is considering additional financial incentives through an ongoing rulemaking process. The first phase also identifies National Conservation Lands, and designates Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, wildlife allocations and National Scenic and Historic Trail management corridors. These lands would be closed to renewable energy and benefit from adaptive management in the face of climate change.

Read full press release from the U.S. Interior Department and the State of California

 

NAS Lemoore could sign contract for mega-solar farm next month

By John Lindt, The Fresno Business Journal

The U.S. Navy has a goal to develop 1 gigawatt (1,000 MW) of renewable energy by 2020, enough power to light up 700,000 homes. Now it looks like Naval Air Station Lemoore could generate nearly 40 percent of that figure on its own.

The Kings County base is set to welcome new F-35 strike fighter jets that will be landing in what will be a sea of perhaps 1 million solar panels planted next to the runway—the largest solar plant at an airport in the world. The Navy is looking to lease out 3,000-5,000 acres of land surrounding the NAS Lemoore installation to a solar development company that would build a 390 MW solar farm, according to a solicitation. By contrast, Nellis Air Force base in Nevada is the largest solar military airport now at 15 MW on 140 acres.

The Navy studied the idea at Lemoore a few years back and more formally started the process in January. Officials decided the environmental impact of the proposed project was negligible, so now they can move forward if ongoing negotiations with a private solar firm go well.  The Navy and a private partner would enter into an agreement to allow the private partner to use Navy land to construct, operate and own the proposed solar photovoltaic system. The partner would sell the generated power to regional customers, and would be responsible for the plant’s maintenance, operation, and eventual decommissioning.

Including the infrastructure, the total construction period for the project would be approximately four years, putting it online in 2020. With more large scale solar coming to Kings County, the addition of nearly 400 megawatts of power would mean the county’s total capacity, either built or permitted, would total nearly 900 megawatts.

Read full article in the Fresno Business Journal

Could Solar Energy Be California’s Next Cash Crop?

By Christina Nunez, National Geographic

Several years ago, Nick Rajkovich bought 1,200 acres in California’s Fresno County, planning to grow almonds for his family’s farming business. The ranch had a steady supply of water at the time. But that changed with the state’s latest, relentless drought: Federal water deliveries over the past three years dwindled to zero. “Now the almonds are dead,” Rajkovich says; and with the land bone dry and no relief in sight, “The only thing we can farm is the sun. That’s why solar is the obvious choice for us.”

Rajkovich is one of many farmers in the Central Valley and elsewhere who are turning land over to solar developers, planting photovoltaic panels instead of crops. California’s punishing drought is sparking fierce debates over water allotments for agriculture, and more than 500,000 acres will lie fallow this year. At the same time, the state is fighting climate change more aggressively than ever with a new law requiring half of all electricity to come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2030.

All of that clean energy needs real estate, and farmers have land available. Now, almost a third of California’s big solar facilities—those capable of generating one megawatt or more—stand on croplands or pastures, according to new research.

Read full article from National Geographic

California’s huge solar projects causing energy poverty

By Thomas D. Elias, The Los Angeles Daily News

When ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made their way onto a hot, dry alkali flat just west of the Interstate 15 freeway between Barstow and Las Vegas in late 2010, all anyone knew for sure was that they were opening an era of giantism in solar electricity in California. What no one could predict was that they were also putting a stamp of approval on the spread of energy poverty in many parts of this state.

The Ivanpah dry lake on which the two former officials proudly strode that day now hosts a huge solar farm easily visible as a glassy sea of deep blue to travelers just southwest of the California-Nevada state line. Ivanpah, built largely with federal loans, is the second-largest of half a dozen desert-region solar thermal developments that produce many thousands of megawatts for privately-owned utilities like Southern California Edison Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Besides paying for the energy produced by those plants, including construction costs, the big utilities have erected hundreds of miles of power transmission lines to bring the sun’s energy to big cities in all parts of California. When they do that, they receive about 14 percent profit on their constructions costs each year for 20 years.

The solar farms are part of a plan first adopted by executive order by Schwarzenegger and later expanded on by current Gov. Jerry Brown. By 2020, California is to produce one-third of its electricity from renewable sources. By 2030, that’s supposed to rise to one-half. Of course, the current four-year drought has tossed a wrench into some of the calculations behind those mandates, causing enormous cuts in the power produced by hydroelectric dams for more than a century.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Daily News