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One of SunPower's current installations is shown here. SunPower signed a contract to provide California with 250 MW of flat panel solar photovoltaic power by 2012, helping to reestablish the U.S. as the global leader in solar.  (Source: MMA Renewable Ventures/SunPower)
California is thinking green with solar, nuclear, and wind

California is thinking green.  Hot on the heels of San Francisco's announcement of its big green tax cut -- subsidies for solar panel installation that will provide citizens with energy savings -- California has more big solar news.

The state's largest utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has signed deals with OptiSolar and SunPower to provide 800 MW of new solar power to the state in the form of massive solar photovoltaic plants.  The move will reestablish the U.S. as the global leader in solar power by being the world's largest set of grid-tied photovoltaic installations, surpassing solar-hungry Spain and Portugal.

The arrays will provide residents with 1.65 billion kilowatt hours each year and will power up to 250,000 homes.  Jack Keenan, CEO and senior vice president of PG&E states, "This commitment not only moves us forward in meeting our renewable goal, it's also a significant step forward in the renewable energy sector.  Utility-scale deployment of PV (photovoltaic) technology may well become cost competitive with other forms of renewable energy generation, such as solar thermal and wind."

With the upcoming capacity, 24 percent of PG&E's power will come from renewable resources. This exceeds the 20 percent that the state demands of the company by 2010.  Keenan says the new installation will help to ease California's massive power demands during peak afternoon hours.

The estimated completion date for Optisolar's 550 MW is 2013, while SunPower should finish up its 250 MW in 2012.  Both plants will be built in the sunny central San Luis Obispo County, north of Los Angeles.  The new farms are somewhat unique in that typically farms of this size have used solar thermal technologies instead of photovoltaics.  One cost efficient thing about the new plants is they'll be able to use almost entirely preexisting lines.  This will reduce the construction costs and thus reduce the cost per kilowatt hour as well.

OptiSolar's plant, the larger of the pair, will cut as much carbon emissions as removing 90,000 cars from the road.  It will use the company's cutting edge thin-film photovoltaic equipment.  It has already filed for permits and hopes to begin construction by 2010.  Randy Goldstein, CEO of OptiSolar states, "The Topaz solar farm will grow clean electricity on previously disturbed, unused farmland with low-profile panels minimizing visual impact.  It's designed to be compatible with key wildlife species and avoid environmentally sensitive areas."

OptiSolar currently employs 400 people in Hayward, California at a solar panel manufacturing plant.  In order to aid the construction it plans on creating another in Sacramento.  This new plant will create 1,000 "green-collar" jobs.

Meanwhile SunPower brings considerable experience to the table, having installed 350 MW in capacity in 450 sites on three continents.  Among its achievements are the installation of the largest U.S. photovoltaic facility, 14 MW at Nellis National Air Force Base in Arizona, and the installation of the world's first utility-scale photovoltaic plant in Bavaria, Germany.  The company has plans to sell solar panels at Wal-Mart, JC Penney, and Macy's to compete with IKEA's new solar offerings.  Sam's Club is also offering competitive products.

Adam Browning, executive of the Vote Solar Initiative praises the initiatives stating, "What you are seeing here is the foundation of an industry that can deliver electricity cleanly, cheaply, and reliably than the fossil fuel alternatives.  That's really good news because the Department of Energy predicts we will need 386 gigawatts by 2015 just to keep up with load growth...This is a very large, great leap forward in economies of scale. This is the wave of the future."

California also is considering new nuclear expansion with California firm Fresno Nuclear Energy Group LLC.  The company plans to build a new plant in San Joaquin Valley, in addition to California's four operational nuclear plants, which provide the state with a great deal of electricity.  The firm has contracted Constellation Energy in Baltimore to design build and operate the plant. 

The new nuclear plant would provide 1,600 MW of power, and would cost approximately $4B USD.  Californian citizens will vote this fall on whether to allow the construction of the plant.  Costs for nuclear range between $0.05 and $0.11 by current estimates, while costs for solar range between $0.15 to $0.20.  Both can be significantly cheaper than this thanks to federal subsidies.

Officials behind both the solar and nuclear projects warn that if Congress does not renew tax credits for alternative energy, efforts will likely slow and whither.  It currently looks likely that Congress will indeed renew these measures as they enjoy strong national support.

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RE: Clarify, please
By Amiga500 on 8/15/2008 1:03:26 PM , Rating: 4
Both solar and nuclear with installation and maintenance costs come to around $0.20 cents/kWh, when using the most modern technologies.

Indeed - clarify please.

Nuclear costs approx $0.05/kWh...

RE: Clarify, please
By JasonMick on 8/15/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clarify, please
By masher2 on 8/15/2008 1:29:29 PM , Rating: 4
Jason, I have no idea where you got figures showing nuclear and solar power to be roughly the same cost, but you couldn't be more wrong. Every single government and industry study ever done -- along with actual operating costs from real-world installations -- place solar from 3 to 5 times more expensive than nuclear. If energy storage is reqired for power at night, solar can become 10-30 times as expensive as nuclear.

Fuel costs for nuclear are nowhere near 7 cents Kw-h. This MIT study (which was criticized for numbers that came in substantially above other studies) places total costs, including fuel, O&M, construction costs, legal overhead, and decommission, at 6.7c kW-h:

The study also noted a few small changes which would reduce costs still further, down to 5.3c kW-h.

Furthermore, that study was done in 2003, when the industry average AF (availability factor) was 85%, and used an estimated plant lifetime of only 40 years. The current industry average AF is 90% (1/3 less downtime) and many plants are being certified for 60-year operating lifespans. This reduces costs still further.

RE: Clarify, please
By bhieb on 8/15/2008 1:38:03 PM , Rating: 4
Holy crap and actual outside link, instead of conjecture spewed about with no links to support it whatsoever. What a concept!

Undocumented Opinion <> News/Fact

RE: Clarify, please
By Solandri on 8/15/2008 3:13:22 PM , Rating: 2
Another link if you're interested. This one is in Euro cents so multiply by 1.25 which was the exchange rate back in 2006.

RE: Clarify, please
By FITCamaro on 8/15/2008 1:57:11 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I was like "How can anyone think that the two are the same cost?"

Whats amazing to me is given the value of land in California, they're going to use a ton of it for solar plants putting out around 1/3 the power of the nuclear plant which will use far less land. It makes far more sense to just build 2 nuclear plants. The availability is far higher and the cost is cheaper. Plus you'd get more power.

RE: Clarify, please
By acejj26 on 8/15/2008 2:04:42 PM , Rating: 2
it's actually way less than 1/3 of the power of a nuclear plant. a modern reactor can be on the order of 1 GW with an availability factor of close to 1. on the other hand, this sprawling solar plant produces 0.25 GW with an availability factor of around 1/3, which means the nuclear power plant would be producing around 12 times the amount of power per day. that being said, your point remains. nuclear power is by far and away a better option than solar.

RE: Clarify, please
By AvidDailyTechie on 8/15/2008 5:43:11 PM , Rating: 2
I logged in for the first time in about a year to reply to your post.

As a student well into Nuclear Engineering curriculum I greatly appreciate this. I almost crapped my pants when I saw that some new solar panels would offer about the same price/kWh “when using the most modern technologies.” I thought we had come upon a solar cell revolution, but no, just another piece of misinformation about Nuclear Energy.

RE: Clarify, please
By masher2 on 8/15/2008 2:06:42 PM , Rating: 2
Also Jason, this report from actual operating costs from the the nuclear power industry itself, pegged costs at an astoundingly low 1.66 c/Kw-h for both fuel and maintenance. It excludes only capital expenditures such as plant construction/decomissioning costs.

Obviously capital costs are large, but the figure gives a lie to your notion that nuclear fuel costs run from 3-7 c/Kw-h.

RE: Clarify, please
By BladeVenom on 8/15/2008 3:52:16 PM , Rating: 2
Do any of your figures account for the legal and delays costs that will be caused from lawsuits by environmental groups?

RE: Clarify, please
By masher2 on 8/15/2008 4:22:01 PM , Rating: 2
The MIT study does. In fact, reducing the construction delays from such suits was one of the factors they considered which would reduce the cost from 6.7c to 5.3c Kw-h.

RE: Clarify, please
By Jedi2155 on 8/15/2008 5:10:18 PM , Rating: 2
Were there any government subsidies taken into account or is there even any government subsidies in nuclear industry at this point?

RE: Clarify, please
By HsiKai on 8/15/2008 5:31:27 PM , Rating: 2
See some of my links below in the thread "Government Subsidies."

Generally speaking there don't seem to be any "new subsidies" since there haven't been any new plants constructed, however there are significant R&D and tax subsidies, but those don't normally influence the immediate cost of electricity nor even go towards it.

RE: Clarify, please
By foolsgambit11 on 8/15/2008 6:40:40 PM , Rating: 2
Don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader? The cost section of the summary report analyzes actual costs for the entire cycle (in 2002 dollars), and comes to 6.7 cents/kWe-hr. If we could drop construction costs 25%, it would become 5.5 cents. (That would imply construction is about 4.8 cents/kWe-hr over a 40 year lifespan, making all other costs 1.9 cents/kWe-hr. I'm sure that's an oversimplification, though). Additionally, shaving a year off of construction times (4 years instead of 5) could save another .2 cents, realistic improvements to operating and maintenance costs would save another .2 cents, and reducing the cost of capital to gas/coal would shave off a whopping .9 cents/kWe-hr. I'll admit, I have no idea what that means, but I suspect anything having to do with gas and coal costs has not gone the way they'd like since 2002. The grand total, should all improvement be realized, is 4.2 cents/kWe-hr

Finally, they suggest a 1.7 cents/kWe-hr government tax credit be given to nuclear to make it competitive with coal and gas plants, which equates to $70/tonne of carbon prevented compared to coal, or $160/tonne of carbon prevented compared to natural gas.

It's interesting to contrast the European method of promoting green tech versus the American model. In the States, we give credits to power suppliers who are green; in Europe they tax plants that are dirty. The results are similar (not identical, of course). We lose revenue, they gain revenue.

RE: Clarify, please
By masher2 on 8/15/2008 2:24:56 PM , Rating: 2
> "Actually nuclear costs around $0.03-$0.07 in pure fuel costs "

$0.005/Kw-h is the actual figure for pure fuel costs, taken straight from 2007 data:

You were only off by a factor of 1,400%.

RE: Clarify, please
By Solandri on 8/15/2008 3:23:32 PM , Rating: 3
Looks like he (or his source) dropped a zero after the decimal. Easy mistake to make, especially if the person has a preconceived notion they want the data to fit.

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