Big solar, little solar - Page 3

Which renewable technology holds the key for a sunnier (and more democratic) energy future?

Desert solar farms like the Ivanpah facility (above) need miles of transmission lines. Rooftop solar panels (below) don't.

Introduced as Senate Bill 843 by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), the bill would allow any customer to purchase a subscription to a centralized renewable energy facility, and receive credit on their utility bill in exchange for the monthly fee.

White takes the view that all the different solar technologies are needed — rooftop, desert, and "intermediary" — the kind of small-scale, centralized facility that is located closer to the customers who will use it, like the solar array at the Sunset Reservoir in San Francisco. "After Fukushima [Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan], we need to begin talking seriously about reducing our dependence on nuclear power," White says. "When you look at what we're trying to replace and what we're trying to avoid, it's like we're trying to assemble a new portfolio."



True that ‘large scale solar is attracting billions in investment’. But only because the government has promised these profits through massive ARRA grants (free money), and risk-free (read low cost) loans guaranteed by the government. The companies investing are motivated by profit and profit alone, and they would not otherwise be interested.
Then, as you point out, roof-top solar essentially competes with utility companies for generation and distribution of electricity. Knowing this you can understand why the utility companies don’t like roof-top solar.
Several entrepreneurial companies here in California have found a solution for homeowners who can’t provide the up-front investment to put solar on the roof. These companies pay for the installation, lease the equipment to the homeowner who then pays a monthly fee to the solar company. The net is a lower total bill.
The net of all this is that the government has picked a technical solution -- big solar in the desert. Being fundamentally political, governments are not good at engineering. A government’s job is to create an economic environment that will let entrepreneurs figure the best way to do something.
Meantime, we are grievously wounding our western open space heritage, like a spendthrift heir running through an inherited fortune. We will all be poorer for this, economically and socially.
And by the way, it is looking more and more like photovoltaic is becoming the dominant big-solar technology, mainly for cost reasons. This will leave Ivanpah, committed to steam and turbines, a dinosaur in the desert.

Posted by Budlong on Jul. 14, 2011 @ 10:44 am

Bill Gates may have an expertise in computer operating systems and building a mega-corporation, but he has no expertise in alternative energy or in problem solving outside of his field, and without his big money his opinion would not get any attention. Two cents is a fair estimate of its worth.

Second, government officials always support big projects. Big projects mean they accomplish big things (whether good or bad). More importantly, it involves big money (taxpayer money). A politician who steers money to a corporation will get a percentage of the money back either in campaign contributions from the corporation, or by becoming a highly paid lobbyist or member of the board of directors of the corp. after leaving elected office. It is important to understand this.

Readers who want and unbiased and well documented discussion of alternative energy can go to: or read Community Power at

Posted by justfacts on Jul. 15, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

The Obama Administration has turned out to be one of the historically worst administrations for protecting the environment. They are making precedent setting policy that is rolling back 40 years of environmental protection. They have fast tracked big solar developments taking up to 5 to 6 square miles of desert at a time, much of it in critical wildlife habitat. They are turning out to be very good republicans.

If you examine the current situation regarding solar applications on public lands, you will notice that all of the big solar applications on desert land that are I under review now are for large 6 to 7 square mile photovoltaic (solar panels) facilities. The concentrated thermal plants (big mirrors) are white elephants and the federal money they need is gone. Photovoltaic plants are cheaper to build, but are still much more expensive than conventional power sources.

If you are using solar energy to be "green", it is utterly stupid to put these panels out there on tortoise habitat when all of the rooftops in Las Vegas have nothing on them! They could have just as easily pumped stimulus money into a feed in tarrif. Solar panels don't care if they are on you roof or in wildlife habitat.

What is very sad is that most of the environmental organizations have sold out the southwest desert habitats. A whole coalition of them are promoting a bunch of Solar Energy Study Zones being reviewed by the Feds. The end result will end up being about half a million acres of public lands that will end up having a one step approval for big developers to clear land and build millions of photovoltaic panels in pace of tortoise habitat. (they will just dig up the tortoises and move them). Why wouldn't environmental groups want these developments in disturbed areas first?

Posted by BighornNV on Jul. 16, 2011 @ 8:20 am

@BighornNV: how do you know that or in other words, are there any public site with these informations? would be great to provide the source, thanks!

Posted by Matt Reeves on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 12:58 am

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