Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Solar Energy Scales to New Levels


The 14-megawatt solar power installation (shown in the photo) that operates at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada is about to be upstaged by a planned installation in California with an 800-megawatt capacity.

As the New York Times reports in Two Large Solar Plants Planned in California, the two photovoltaic installations, now being planned for central California, will produce power at a scale equivalent to a small nuclear power plant when the sun is shining brightly. The scale of this project is a clear indication that solar power has reached a new milestone. Pacific Gas & Electric will purchase the power from the two companies behind the installations: Optisolar and SunPower Corporation.

The companies said they were forbidden by contract terms to talk about price, and a spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric said her company was trying to obtain the best possible deal for ratepayers by not telling other suppliers of renewable energy what it was willing to pay.

But all three companies said the costs would be much lower than photovoltaic installations of the past.

To some degree, these two installations are driven by recent mandates legislated in California, requiring energy producers to reach a level of 20 percent renewables by 2010. But, they also serve as a proof-of-concept that solar can generate power at a vastly larger scale than in the past using the latest technologies.