Happy Energy Independence / Solar Recovery Day

Energy Independence Day, July 3, 2010

With the economy and job-growth stagnant, oil still spewing from the BP well-head into the Gulf of Mexico as a toxic reminder of our addiction to fossil fuels, President Obama couldn’t have picked a better time to announce a major solar power initiative than today, July 3rd — only hours away from Independence Day.

The president labeled his weekly radio address “A Solar Recovery,” reflecting the emphasis on pocket-book voting in this election year. Personally, I wish Obama would have gone with “Energy Independence Day,” putting the spotlight on the larger, long-term prize. But I guess that explains why I’m a journalist and he’s The President of the United States of America.

“We’re accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and doubling our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power…” the president said and then announced a new commitment to solar power of $2 billion.

Solana Solar Generating Station

The bulk of the money will be used to build the world’s largest solar power plant, a 280-MW station in southwestern Arizona. The Solana generating plant, said Obama, “will be the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use — even at night.”

Solana (Spanish for “sunny place”) will be built and operated by Abengoa, headquartered in Seville, Spain. The plant will use concentrating solar power (CSP) technology, which uses heat generated by sunlight to produce electricity. Most Americans are more familiar with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels used mostly on rooftops to generate electricity.

Electricity generated by Solana will be purchased by Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, and used to supply electric power to an estimated 70,000 homes.

“This is very encouraging news,” Pat Dinkel, VP for power marketing and resource planning at APS, told The Sun today. “We know there are a lot of steps remaining before our customers can benefit from Solana’s generation but this action brings that goal a step closer.”

Abengoa’s Fred Morse thanked Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson), a leading solar advocate in Washington.

“Congresswoman Giffords played an instrumental role to make this project a reality,” said Morse. “She understands the importance of creating jobs in Arizona and the ripple effects that this project will create throughout the Arizona economy. Solana will bring Arizona one step closer to becoming the solar capital of the nation.”

The Solana project has been in the works for at least three years. With the federal loan guarantee, construction on the plant may begin yet this year.

Secretary Chu: U.S. leadership in the global green economy

Abound Solar's PV Panel

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu touted the second part of today’s announcement — $400 million to Abound Solar Manufacturing to produce a new form of PV cells. Plants in Longmont, Colorado, and Tipton, Indiana will manufacture Cadmium-Telluride panels, a technology developed at Colorado State University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Science Foundation.

The Indiana plant was originally built for a Chrysler auto parts supplier, but because of the recession, it had never been occupied. By 2013, Abound hopes to be manufacturing 840 MW worth of solar panels a year at the two plants.

“By supporting new cutting-edge solar manufacturing technologies,” said Chu, “we are advancing a diverse renewable energy portfolio while helping to position the U.S. at the forefront of the global green economy.”

Jobs for Arizona & New Mexico, too

The Solana plant will need nearly a million specially-made mirrors to reflect and concentrate the Arizona sunlight, and miles of tubing to carry the super-heated liquid used in the CSP process. A mirror factory is planned for the Phoenix area, and the tubes will come from neighboring New Mexico, where a factory owned by Schott Solar is currently operating well-below capacity.

Solana Solar Generating Station

The Solana plant will cover 3,000 acres of former farmland. While CSP that uses water for cooling is controversial, especially in the desert, the power plant will use less water than the farm that had been at the same location. According to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords office, Solana will use slightly more than 10 percent of the water drawn by the farm.

Solana generates electricity without producing greenhouse gasses — eliminating an estimated 470,000 tons of GHG a year.

Some 3,200 giant parabolic collectors will track the sun throughout the day at Solana. Each collector is 25-feet wide, 20-feet high and the length of 1.5 football fields. Some of the heat generated by the collectors will be stored as molten salt, allowing the plant to generate electricity for six hours after sunset.

ReCast | Solar in the Desert

The Solar System Dilemma


Stirling Solar SunCatcher, from NREL

Barry Commoner’s 2nd Law of Ecology: Everything must go somewhere.

Earlier this week I wrote my first piece as a correspondent for OnEarth, the online vision of the magazine of the same name, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Even amid charges and counter-charges of NIMBYism and wilderness destruction, this is an important discussion — too important to let it degenerate into the same old shouting match.

For some background on this debate, I want to highlight one of my favorite radio discussions on the subject: “Solar Power Scales Up,” first broadcast on NPR’s excellent program, Science Friday,with host Ira Flatow on March 14, 2008.

Some of the hypotheticals discussed on the show are now becoming realities.

Rep. Giffords, Pre-Copenhagen

US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Among the guests on the show is Arizona Congresswoman, Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Two years after the radio show, Giffords is now receiving some much-deserved national and international attention as one of the leading voices in congress for solar power.

Her Solar Technology Roadmap bill has passed the full House and was recently discussed in a Senate hearing on what could be amendments to the climate bill.

Jonathon Overpeck, director of the Environmental Studies Laboratory in the Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, was a coordinating lead author for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment. When Giffords was in Copenhagen as part of the official Congressional Delegation to the COP15 summit, I asked Overpeck what he thought of the congresswoman’s work on solar power. After all, in Congress you don’t have the luxury of working on just one issue. At any given time, there are a dozen or more important bills requiring your attention.

“I’m not sure anyone knows more about climate change issues and solar in Congress than Rep. Giffords,” Overpeck responded.

So, check out this broadcast. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time to catch the dogs barking “Jingle Bells” later.

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Other experts on the show:

Frederick Morse
Senior Advisor for the U.S.
Abengoa Solar
Washington, DC

David Mills
Chairman, Founcer, Chief Research Officer
Ausra Incorporated
Palo Alto, California

Mark Mehos
Program Manager
Concentrating Solar Power Program
DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Golden, Colorado

The Southwest’s Summer of Solar Love

The SunCatcher

The SunCatcher

This has been the summer– and is now the autumn — of solar love here in the Southwest.

Last week we reported on the announcement by Tucson Electric Power Company (TEP) that they plan to build a 25-MW PV solar power plant outside of Tucson. That’s nearly twice the size of the largest existing PV plant in the US today.

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