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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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Just a thought
By DeepBlue1975 on 8/15/2008 8:10:56 PM , Rating: 2
I think solar power is attractive, but to be looking at it in the long run. Today it is highly inefficient and because of that, instead of setting up large solar farms I'd rather give incentives to buildings and house owners to install some sort of solar power capability so that the technology can keep evolving till it gets efficient enough (efficient in absolute terms and compared to other sources of energy like nuclear).




RE: Just a thought
By Aethelwolf on 8/18/2008 9:30:23 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly. The U.S. Department of Energy announced they found a way to boost efficiency from ~20% to ~40%. I think my government needs to mandate that building codes include language outlining that all new houses, apartment complexes, and buildings should do so much onsite, clean energy production. What is the best way to do that in most areas? Solar tech.

We can produce most of our energy demands with green technologies in this country. Including wind, solar, geothermal, wave (not tide!), and biogas from landfills (much better to burn methane to CO2, then to let methane escape into the atmosphere). The gaps can be filled in by Nuclear Plants, either fission or preferably fusion, and Coal if need be. Tie that with liquid fuel tech like cellulosic ethanol (screw corn), oil from algae (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22027663/), hydrogen production possibilities.

The U.S. could be completely carbon neutral in 40 years if we really wanted to. But it will take WW2 effort and sacrifices to do it—something I'm doubtful today's Americans can do.


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