By Mark Halper
Posting in Energy
With summer approaching its unofficial end, we shine light on big developments in the solar industry.
In that spirit, can you spot the contradictions in the statements below, all taken from this summer’s press releases and web pages about solar power projects? Clue: Pay attention to the bold typeface.
August 18, from Solar Millenium, Erlangen, Germany: “Solar Millennium AG … today announced their plan to convert the first 500 MW phase of the Blythe Solar Power Project to photovoltaic (PV) technology. When complete, the Blythe Project will be 1,000 MW in size and thus the largest solar facility in the world.”
August 15, from National Solar Power, Melbourne, Fla., regarding a 400-MW project: “National Solar Power today announced, after a deliberative, exhaustive and comprehensive search process, it has narrowed its list to four communities in Florida to become the home of the world’s largest solar farm."
August 8, First Solar, Tempe, Ariz, via the U.S. Department of Interior says its 500-MW plant in Riverside, California will be the “largest solar-photovoltaic facility on public lands.”
Currently, Brightsource, Oakland, Calif. notes on its website that its 392-MW solar thermal plant in Ivanpah, Calif. is “the largest solar plant under construction in the world.”
Get it? Everyone, it seems says they’re the biggest, whether they’re talking 400 MW or 1,000 MW!
Before I give my vote for the most gargantuan solar project in the world, let me come clean about a disingenuous twist above. First Solar qualifies its claim, noting that it would be the largest on public land, which is a tad less absolute than “largest in world.” In the Riverside project, the turf belongs to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
And to Brightsource’s credit, when they announced plans earlier this month for a 500-MW project in California’s Inyo County, they refrained from any “largest ever” speech, even though 500 MW would be bigger than the 392-MW plant that their website says is the “largest under construction.” (They’ve broken ground at Ivanpah, while Inyo Canyon awaits government approval).
So, will the real largest solar project please stand up?
The winner in my book is First Solar, but not its Riverside project.
Rather, I give the nod to its massive 2 gigawatt project in China, which when complete would be the size of two nuclear power stations. The project, in China’s Inner Mongolian desert, has suffered delays. First Solar first announced it in Sept. 2009, and construction has not yet begun. We’ll take a closer look at the state of play there in a subsequent post, but for today’s purposes, it wins the “would be the word’s biggest” prize.
Let’s not forget that none of these are yet up and running. But this “mine is bigger than yours” mania is at least a sign that solar is picking up, and that it could stat to contribute more than just a minute fraction of the world’s electricity.
The free fall in the price of solar panels is helping to make solar a more attractive alternative - even if the same price plunge has forced U.S. solar companies Evergreen and SpectraWatt into bankruptcy.
Solar plants will get even bigger one day, when space stations beam down electricity from satellite-mounted solar panels, but that’s yet another story.
Of course, the ultimate winner of the world’s largest solar plant is the sun, sitting up there 93 million miles away perpetrating nuclear fusion that has over the ages provided the heat that has fired up all sorts of energy value chains including fossil fuels, hydro, wind and to some extent, geothermal. (We’ll give tidal credit to the moon. As for nuclear, well, if fusion power stations ever come around, we can thank the sun for inspiration).
Unofficially, almost all of the world’s naturally-sourced energy is solar power.
Aug 28, 2011
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" I give the nod to its massive 2 gigawatt project in China, which when complete would be the size of two nuclear power stations." That's slightly inaccurate. I'll grant that a nuclear power station of 1 gigawatt faceplate rating is likely enough, although lots of such stations have two or even three 1000 MW reactors. But you won't get as much electric energy output from 2000 MW worth of solar panels as you will from just 1000 MW of nuclear fission reactor. In the USA, the average capacity rating of nuclear plants is 90% In a year of 365 days of 24 hours, they might be up and producing for 20 or 21 of these hours, or maybe they're producing round the clock at full capacity (I'm avoiding the term "full blast") for all but 36.5 days. Now the Sun is not that industrious. If you have sun-following equipment, you might get a 50% capacity rating. If not, it's more like 33%, for trigonometric reasons. The big virtue of solar, as contrasted with wind, is that the availability of the energy has a high probability of coinciding with peak load. But if we're replacing base load generators with clean renewables **, let's shut down the coal, like France did (actually, they didn't build them) not the nuclear. Radioactive emissions are the least obnoxious of the poisons that coal burning emits, but a one gigawatt coal burner needs a million tons of coal for every ton of U-235 or Pu-239 that a nuke plant fissions to produce about the same amount of electricity, and a million tons of coal contains two or three tons of uranium, and up to ten or so of thorium, and sends most of both up the flue as fly ash oxides. That's more radiation than a comparable nuke emits, and probably more since 1986 than the Chernobyl disaster released. Certainly, the amount of poison released from any Chernobyl-capacity coal plant, adding up oxides of nitrogen, of sulfur, mercury vapor (a neurotoxin, very nasty) and the stuff that leaches out of the ash dumps, far exceeds what Chernobyl released. ** The cleanest renewable technology, measured in terms of environmental impact per gigawatt-year, is in fact nuclear breeder fission reactors, and the USA held the lead in this in 1994, when the Clinton administration abandoned it. Not even France has got that far since then, so I still have hope. But not if we and my hero Obama continue to believe in wind turbines.
I used to be a UCP operator for BP Solar in Frederick, Md. . I have been struck by a common theme of most installations I have seen. They are laid out in one dimension, and are single purpose. How about raising the panels and all equipment 20 to 35 feet high and growing crops underneath? In urban areas this would allow parking or storage (think cargo containers or some such.). You could retrofit solar farms over existing structure. By the way what is the status of Robin Williams Sun Flowers. They were solar panels built to resemble giant sun flowers that were built back when Enron and Amco Oil owned Solarex .
Please direct your attention to pursueing clean energy alternatives, - for example; Adding Solar Panels to every roof top in America and let the Utility Monopolies pay the home owners for their excess energy produced. Now that would be a Change I could believe in...
Japan had the right idea when they announnced that all new building construction (of a certian size or larger, at least, I'm not sure of the details) is required to include solar panels. The US and Canada should do that as well. Now if only we could push the money-pinching beurocrats out of the picture so progress can actually be made. They're the entire reason that the Kyoto accord never took off in America.
It may be apparent, if you consider dead bats and dead hawks unclean, that wind is dirtier than solar. If you consider the need for the power available to coincide with the demand, wind is very poor indeed. But if you count people falling off of rooftops, which one of my friends did when volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, to be an adverse environmental impact, then you find that even installing rooftop solar panels can plausibly be rated as less "green" per gigawatt-year than nuclear fission reactors. No, I have not done the calculation, but it has been done.
If you are really interested search for "Pearl River" building in China utilising a combination of wind power and solar energy. It is designed by an English firm. It is a really revolutionary concept properly implemented.