Two Huge New Solar Projects on Public Land

“The Obama administration on Wednesday announced that it has given final approval to two sizable solar projects on public lands near the Nevada-California border, which when operational are expected to provide a combined 550 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power about 170,000 homes and create 700 jobs.

The announcement represents a milestone for President Obama’s renewable energy efforts. With the approval of both projects, there now are currently 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects either currently generating energy or slated to be generating energy on public lands. This is a huge number compared to the amount of renewable energy projects had been approved on public lands before Obama took office.

There were none.”

Climate Progress

More more more….

As of 2012, public lands and waters housed approximately 43 percent of all the coal and 20 percent of the natural gas produced in the United States, according to a report from the Center for American Progress. Conversely, only 1 percent of the country’s wind and practically none of its solar power were derived from federal lands at the time.

Solar Installations Booming

The number of solar installations – both large and small-scale – is booming. In 2013, the United States added enough new photovoltaic panels to generate a maximum of 4.2 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the output of four nuclear reactors. Over the past five years, the number of residential installations has grown at an average annual rate of 70 percent, according to the NPD Solarbuzz market information firm.

This article by David R Baker in the SF Chronicle, focuses on the business side of solar — who has failed and who has prospered– but one nugget is the fast increase in its use.  It would be good to see projections, especially how fast and how much fossil-fuel sources could be retired.  On a recent landing in Albuquerque I was stunned by how few roof solar installations I saw — in that land of perpetuals sunshine.


On the other hand:

In 2013, the Edison Electric Institute issued a paper warning that electric utilities face “disruptive challenges”, including the rise of distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar.  In recent months, we have seen a building move by utilities to place roadblocks in the way of solar energy deployment, making it more difficult and expensive for businesses and homeowners to self generate electricity.

Now more confirmation. This will be a fight.

San Diego Union Tribune:

After resigning for health reasons, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission has warned of intense pressure by utilities to protect against the incursion of rooftop solar energy.

Commissioner Mark Ferron announced Wednesday that he could no longer perform his duties as commissioner after two years of treatment for prostate cancer. In a jocular parting report, he praised California for its leading role on energy and climate policy, while warning that its utilities “would still dearly like to strangle rooftop solar if they could.”

Solar + Storage: The Road Away from Fossil Fuel Improves

SolarCity, Tesla roll out energy storage service was the inside headline in the SF Chronicle last week.  Good news that serioius effort is going into energy storage, a vital part of making solar, wind and water viable options for taking over more and more of the world’s energy load.  Both Solar City and Tesla are already major players.  Their partnership will be worth watching….

Solar Windows

Windows are, by their nature, solar devices, as the Romans discovered when glass was first used, and as cats and humans know who bask in their warmth. Driven by the world wide energy crisis, science is taking the contribution of window glass to whole new heat.

General Electric singled out Pythagoras Solar this week for a $100,000 award for its innovative embedded solar-cell window design

The idea is that the window lets in less light, while still being transparent, so buildings get needed shade during hot sunny hours, reducing their air conditioning use and making the building more energy-efficient. At the same time, the panels produce solar power, which the building can use for electricity. The company is currently targeting architects and commercial building owners. Reuters

This is not the only idea at work, however:

…the Norweigan solar power company EnSol has patented a thin film solar cell technology designed to be sprayed on to just such surfaces. Unlike traditional silicon-based solar cells, the film is composed of metal nanoparticles embedded in a transparent composite matrix, and operates on a different principle. EnSol is now developing the product with help from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“One of the key advantages is that it is a transparent thin film that can be coated onto window glass so that windows in buildings can also become power generators,” gizmag

In Queensland a dye infusion method is being developed, also to turn glass into electricity generators.

Treehugger reports on XsunX effort to develop a thin film application that could be used on windows as well as other surfaces. A quick slide show with some tech details is here.

MIT wants to use windows as solar concentrators, gathering the energy along the edges at the frames.

And for a quick discussion of some of the technologies as reflected in stocks, try this.

Some project that virtually the entire world could be powered from the sun in less than 20 years — if the good guys win. One of the brakes on this possibility is that attention is still being turned to “clean” coal. Bad idea, as most of you know. Here’s a recent Union of Concerned Scientists report on how bad.

A Risky Proposition: The Financial Hazards of New Investments in Coal Plants

So no single silver bullet, but lots of smaller ones with some promise. Down with stupidity! Up with innovation!


Sahara Solar Power?

We’ve been hearing more and more about desert solar arrays as one, of the many, essential technologies to back off of CO2 production and end our dependence on Middle-East oil.  California, Arizona, China, Australia all have projects going, or in the works.  How about the biggest desert in the world, the Sahara?  Is it feasible to generate enough solar power there, and transmit it to population centers to make it a viable hope?  Some big investors think so.

“The Sahara gets twice as much sunshine annually as most of Europe. The European Union wants to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within a decade. So why not build solar power plants across North Africa and ship the electricity north via power lines under the Mediterranean?

Over the past year, more than 30 European companies have joined the Desertec Industrial Initiative, a consortium that seeks a $560 billion investment in North African solar and wind installations over the next 40 years. The group is completing a feasibility study and hopes to be building its first power plant by 2013.

A separate group of companies called Transgreen, formed in July, is working on plans for the thousands of miles of high-voltage lines needed. The challenge is immense: Winning agreement from very different countries on two continents to carry out one of the biggest infrastructure projects in history.

Read more at SF Gate:

It’s true there is a lot sunshine in the Sahara.  Is it enough, after transmission loss, the threat of disruption of a few “backbone” transmission lines, the still sticky Euro-Afro relationships to be better than solar panels on every available horizontal surface large cities have to offer?  It is there, after all, the energy has to be, before it is consumed.  Would a million small solar panels be more resistant to disruption — weather, earthquake, switch failure, terror attack– than several large, industrial size plants in the deserts of Libya, Egypt, Algeria?

Do we have a choice, given the speed of approach of climate change and the inability of governing bodies to make decisions?  We may be throwing mud in a fast moving river and anything to hand will be important.

Fresh Squeeze Solar

We usually have to plow deep for good news these days; here’s some just off the vine.

…[a solar power] invention that uses dye squeezed from berries. The dye acts as the chlorophyll in green leaves that allows the “Graetzel cell,” a layer of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, to absorb sunlight.

The invention is cheaper than the standard silicon photovoltaics in conventional solar power cells, making it a cheaper solution to the world’s energy problems, according to the Technology Academy of Finland.

The Graetzel cell can be used to power street lamps.

Read more:

Solar Energy for 7,000,000,000

Interesting technical talk from the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory Cyrus Wadia walks you through the economics and technology of moving from current high cost silicon photo voltaics to new and promising innovations in nanotechnolgy.

[ A trifle annoying that his laser pointer to the charts is not visible to us, as it is to his live audience.]

Solar Stories

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a wonderful organization for many reasons. They have taken a lead role in articulating and educating us all about the dangers of nuclear energy, the importance of sustainable agriculture, and the latest science based information about global warming.

With all this they have a series of profiles of folks who are picking up and doing projects to reduce their own energy footprint. You can see this at This month’s earthwise newsletter features one of them, Jeff Wild, pastor of the Advent Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin. You can hear his story by clicking on the “faces” link above and finding and clicking the dot representing Madison on the map.

PG&E Inches Toward Solar

Pacific Gas and Electric announced plans yesterday to invest in new solar plants — some of which it would own outright and some of which would be owned by other companies which would sell the electricity to PG&E. Typically, public utilities like PG&E do not own their own power sources; they purchase it and are responsible for the distribution, so this represents a change in the business model, apparently in response to the world-wide economic crisis which has halted bank lending to companies in the alternative energy production business.

The utility announced plans Tuesday for a five-year program to build enough solar projects throughout its territory to generate as much as 500 megawatts of electricity, roughly the same output as a mid-size fossil fuel power plant. Using money from a proposed increase in electricity bills, PG&E would own half of those plants and buy power from the rest.

Baker: SF Gate

Though this, when complete, will only provide 1.3% of the energy demand for PG&E it’s at least a step forward.

Big Solar Deal in SoCal

“In what could be the world’s largest solar deal to date, BrightSource Energy of Oakland announced Wednesday that it will sell Southern California Edison 1,300 megawatts of electricity from seven large solar plants planned for the California desert.

“That’s enough juice to light 845,000 homes, and it easily eclipses other recent deals signed by utilities here and abroad that are trying to expand their use of renewable power.

“BrightSource’s plants won’t use the solar photovoltaic panels that homeowners bolt to their rooftops. Instead, large fields of mirrors will focus sunlight on a central tower. The heat generated by all that focused light will boil water within the tower, the boiling water will produce steam and the steam will turn a turbine to generate electricity.

“Variations of the same “solar thermal” technology have been used for decades”

Baker at SF Gate

More and more news about such projects, most of which won’t be up and running for 4-5 years. It seems like good news, though of course simply creating electricity with solar doesn’t, by itself, mean the oil formerly used stays in the ground. Close monitoring and rule-making have to accompany this growth in solar power so it isn’t simply an occasion for resources shifting, as in, we’re not having sweets after dinner any more. OK, I’ll add those to what I have at lunch….