The world’s largest solar panel farm is completed and live in Arizona

209 Comments

Credit: First Solar

Solar panels aren’t just for rooftops — power companies are using them to build massive solar panel farms in the deserts of the U.S., too. On Tuesday, NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar announced that they’ve completed building the world’s largest operational solar panel farm across 2,400 acres (two Central Parks) near Phoenix, Arizona. The site has been live since late last year, and they’re announcing the progress today.

The farm — called the Agua Caliente Solar Photovoltaic Facility can produce 290 MW of solar electricity, which is enough to power 230,000 homes at peak capacity. California utility PG&E is buying the power under a 25-year contract, and First Solar (s FSLR) both supplied the panels, as well as designed, built and will maintain the project. 

First Solar Agua Caliente Plant

The farm was built with a $967 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, as well as equity from owners NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar, which is the energy-focused fund owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. MidAmerican bought 49 percent of the $1.8 billion farm in early 2012. The group say 400 jobs were created during construction.

First Solar - Agua Caliente - Arizona

Agua Caliente is important for its sheer size, and shows that solar panels can contribute a substantial amount of electricity if built in the right areas of the U.S. Average natural gas plants can be a similar size to the 290 MW solar farm, though average coal plants usually produce more power.

Solar panels are now at one of their cheapest times in history — weighted average solar panel system prices fell 15 percent in 2013, to reach a new low of $2.59/W in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to a SEIA and GTM report. More solar has been installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in the last 30 years, and almost a third of new electricity came from solar last year.

209 Comments

Joseph

The problem will be dust. In that sandy environment, especially when the wind blows, you have to dust down all the panels weekly. Otherwise dust settling on the pv-cells will kill efficiency in two weeks. Thats the problem on Mars. In two weeks all Mars probes lose power when the dust covers their solar panels.

John Whitney Jr.

Really? You don’t think they figured out the dust issue before they built this plant?

Desert Rat

You answer a question with a question? Come on, John, you’re good at posting snarky answers. What’s the answer to Joseph’s question?

Jerry Johnson

As I understand it the point of solar farms is to reduce carbon footprint. Comparing pounds of co2 produced per kwhr including all production solar is in the red. This money should have been spent on a fourth generation breeder reactor or a chemical pack reactor.

EMD

@Jerry: That question was asked and settled earlier. Energy is needed to produce the panels, aluminum frames, etc.; assuming only dirty energy is used (which is less and less true as time goes on), PV panels offset their carbon footprint within a couple of years.

Don Bemis

That’s around 2-3 times as much land of the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant near Phoenix, producing only 1/12 as much power when it’s daytime and none at night. A 290 megawatt natural gas plant would cover only a few acres.

John Whitney Jr.

Don: I’m all for using a mix of generation types. Solar PV works particularly well along with natural gas (and, of course, does not produce any carbon or other pollutants). But the nukes are nuts until there is a safe and secure way to dispose of wastes. We’ve been kicking that can down the road for 50 years while we store wastes at plants in “temporary” facilities. Crazy.

Dr Klatoo

In other news, Oklahoma will now allow utility companies to raise my electric rates because I have solar panels on my roof and I am using less net electricity.

EMD

On a related note, a study in Vermont revealed that solar homeowners do NOT cause increased costs to non-solar subscribers, so they axed the idea of a fee.

John Whitney Jr.

Dr. Klatoo: You’re surprised? You live in Oklahoma, the reddest of red states; where oil is king and owns your legislators.

Jack Perlman

They want to tax private owners for going solar, what are they going to do to the big boys? Probably give them a tax break.

Joe

The solar farms that were built recently in Southern California by the border of Mexico in the Imperial Valley were built with much of the labor from Mexico and out of state. What is wrong that picture. The projects were supposed to put people to work from the Imperial Valley as was promised by the Electricians Union. But many of the workers hired were from Mexico and out of state.

Russell

Most comments intelligent good arguments pro and con is this a step or are the trolls elsewhere today ? Lots of money yes but over 20 years what is the cost of an oil/natural gas fired plant what is the cost of the oil or natural gas for 20 years to generate power for 230000 homes. Any fossil fuel plant will need maintenance as will the solar panels. The cost of fuel will go up. There will be emissions from the plant and continual delivery of fuel. In the next 20 years technology will improve driving down price.
20 years ago a 60inch plasma tv was several thousand and few broadcasts were in hd. 40 years ago they did not exist. Readers I think you see the big picture. As for nighttime and cloudy days progress is being made be positive.

John Whitney Jr.

So, your point here? Would it have been better to have not had these jobs? A lot of these guys will move on to the next project (just like any construction job).

Mike

Its starting. The revolution is picking up steam. We are watching the birth of the H2 and Renewable Revolution. Over the course over the next five or ten years you will see advancements that will rewrite the future of civilization.

All renewable energy is local. This will destroy the energy monopolies that have been purchasing wars and owning governments for many decades. This goes way beyond climate change. This makes sense on it’s own. This is the technology that can bring poor nations into the 21st century.

We are past peak oil. Oil will run out. The sun won’t. Oil will get massively more expensive as it runs out. The sun will stay free. CO2 will eventually kill us, and this planet, H2O won’t.

This is progress.

Lou

Finally there creating helpful Utilities that don’t polute or damage the environment. Congrats science at work.

ted

Covering thousands of acres of desert doesn’t damage the environment? But then I guess scraping the ground free of plant life is perfectly acceptable if it is for “green” energy.

John Whitney Jr.

Ted: Yup, perfectly acceptable. Much, much better than strip mines, coal ash ponds, oil sands mining, Fukishima nuclear disasters, and BP deep sea blow-outs.

Scott

Wow – interesting technology, but it has all the appeal of an open pit mine.

John Whitney Jr.

Actually, if you’ve ever seen an open pit mine or a strip mine you’d find Agua Caliente to be beautiful. And, unlike a strip mine, any ecological damage can be rectified by removing the installation.

Zanib Malik

How the very well connected people get all the government loans

EMD

@Zanib: You mean like tax breaks and subsidies for big oil, big coal, etc?

John Whitney Jr.

Financing for the project is all private. The government program is a loan guarantee. Big difference.

Karl Davis

Does anybody know the cost per expected kilowatt-hour for this? I know it has to run for a while to find the actual kilowatt-hours produced and interest rates and such are needed to find the cost, but I bet they have estimates. Did anybody hear?

Dexter

i have my own solar farm in my yard charging 12 6v cart batteries and i run computer lights and tv off it every night when i get home from work and my last power bill was $54
if you can install it your self you should have a solar
if the grid went down i can run my fridg and freezer for as long as i need but i would have to cut back on the tv and computers wile grid power is out and i have invested right at $1200 for batteries and $1400 for solar and wiring and the solar system should be good for 25+ years and the batteries will need to be replaced around 12 years
but i am not done i am growing my system and plan to be grid free by retirement
and i am 47 right now
also have a well that i hope to soon have 100% powered but off grid solar and batteries at witch time the city water will be no longer needed

Johann

I just started to play with solar and Installing it piece by piece, little bit at a time.
Our grid goes down frequently and as the years go on it is getting worse and it takes longer and longer before we get power back. So I charge batteries and started to run lights with it. This year my plan is to have 1,000 watts and an additional 1,000 watts per every coming year.
I am 55 and in 3-4 years and for sure before retirement I will get most of my power from the sun., sure do not want to spend my retirement money on power.
And by then electric cars will be more common and my solar will provide plenty of power for an electric car also.

Paul McGuinness

Just wondering:

290 MW is 260000 kilowatts.
The average daily household use is 30 kW per day, since the average household uses 11,000 kW per year. (11,000 kW/365 days)

This would mean 260000kW/30kW is short of 10,000 homes per day. Something is off. Can you clarify?
It does not seem possible to power 230,000 homes.

Peter

Hey Paul.
I dont know about you, but I use about 3kw per day and I live in California.

bobbybob

230,000 homes at peak. Peak is a specific time during a day. They are saying that if 230,000 homes all demanded electricity at once they could supply it. At any given time during the daylight hours the facility can supply 290 MW.

Justin G.

You’re confusing two things. A MW is indeed 290,000 kW, but 290,000 kW for 1 day equals 6,960,000 kWh (a kilowatt hour is literally that, a kilowatt of power for one hour). You were off by a factor of approximately 24 because you didn’t multiply the rate times the number of hours in a day. Average home energy use is NOT 30 kW per day (which would actually be a rate of energy acceleration), it is 30 kWh per day.

(kWh/day is actually a bit of a redundant unit of measurement, since it is a rate of power, times a length of time, then divided by a length of time)

Paul McGuinness

Justin, and all,

Thanks for the clarification. After reading your response it would be clearer if the 290 MW figure was by the hour or MWh and not MW. The 30 kW figure I came up with was for one day and seemingly high but the numbers came from the EIA. So therefore a bit more than 1 kW per 24 hr period. Or as you indicate 1kWh x 24 hours is 24kWh and the EIA comes up with just shy of 30 kWh per home/per day.

Thanks again.

Dick Snell

What replaces that power WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN? There are no batteries that can do it !! You’ll still demand power 24 hours a day!

Stop Treason

The group say 400 jobs were created during construction.
400 Jobs for Who? 100% American or 100% Illegal Aliens?

John Whitney Jr.

What’s your implication here? Should we stop trying to create jobs because of your fear of immigrants?

henry

Compo Energy Inc. a waste-to-energy project is a much better alternative. This is a US and Canadian Patented Project that will create 1000’s of new jobs, improve our economy and create a new renewable energy source.

Spec9

Don’t let the utilities get all the advantages. Put solar PV on your roof before they successfully lobby the government to put excessive fees on the PV systems of roof-top solar.

MK

This is a step in the right direction for solar. Spreading a few square meters of panels across rooftops all over North America isn’t going to collect one tenth per unit area of electrical power that installations like this will provide. All we need is a practical large-scale energy storage system, and solar farms like these could become baseload generation stations.

David Budka

Somebody showed some good planing. The desert southwest is ideal for the building of both large scale and small scale solar projects. If I lived down there I would design my home to take advantage of solar power.

jdfowler

Bulldozing nature in the name of Green Energy seems absurd.

Johann

In the dessert?, be real.

Just think of this how much life solar panels save and how much ecosystem you will gain, just because of the shade the solar panels provide.

And if they would had planted the panels right, they could had planted veggies right there with the panels and this right in the middle of the dessert.

Heather

you are talking about the middle of the Arizona desert… there is nothing out here to bulldoze trust us.. unless you count the tumbleweed.. would you rather use all the water out of the rivers?

William Johnson

None of your so-called environmental genius’ statements make sense when they say solar panels are non polluting. Tell that to the silicon miners in Oklahoma as they watch their family members die from silicosis. It is very polluting to manufacture those panels. Aluninum, Steel, glass, Silicon Dioxide, Rare earths for doping the crystals to make semi-conductors.

The bottom line is:: There is no free lunch. If you want energy to support our lifestyle, you’re gonna have to pay. Some of those costs are hidden but they exist.

When manufacturing needs are included, the Toyota Prius is more polluting than the Hummer III. So much for American and Al Gore thought processes.

John Whitney Jr.

Agua Caliente use First Solar CdTe thin film technology… no silicon involved. And even if silicon panels were used, a one-time mining operation for the materials needed to assemble the panel doesn’t come close to the on-going damage necessary to strip mine coal or convert oil sands. Not close at all.

David Ogden

Net Revenue looks to be about $180,000,000 a year so it would take about 20 years to pay for the project.

ted

I’m guessing that after 20 years the efficiency of those panels will be low enough that they will need to be replaced at whatever solar panels cost in 20 years. So if it takes until the panels need replacing to pay for the initial investment I would say that is a bad business deal.

Bryce

Where do you get your numbers on degradation over time. Silicon crystal doesn’t change just because a few decades go by. Commonly quoted rates are 1% per year (reference any one of the first several pages of Google results). 1% is much slower decay than what petroleum has increased in price. My grandfather’s old transistor radio still works just fine, but now gas costs a lot more than 10 cents a gallon.

John Whitney Jr.

First Solar panel warranties; 10 year power warranty, 25 year materials and workmanship.

Knobend

Guest, that’s the responsibility of the lunar power plant, just down the road.

bobbybob

Its actually greater than zero. A given time there is the possibility of an electron-hole pair being generated. Light just greatly increases your odds.

Sid

None. This is a peak load power plant meant to supplement base load plants like coal and gas.

In case you’re unaware, FAR more electricity is needed during the day than at night. Which, remarkably, is when this plant will be producing the most energy.

RobPaulGru

can produce 290 MW of solar electricity, which is enough to power 230,000 homes at peak capacity.

Homes don’t consume only 1.2kW at any given time. They consume several times that, divide 230,000 by 3 or 4.

Gary Morris Hite

In 2012, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,837 kWh, an average of 903 kilowatthours (kWh) per month. Louisiana had the highest annual consumption at 15,046 kWh and Maine the lowest at 6,367 kWh. 10,837KWh divided 365 days which is 29.69KWh in a day. Divide by 24 hours is 1.237 kwh used by a home in an “average” hour on an “average” day.

chimel31

Do we know what is the projected annual amount of electricity produced? 290 megawatts is just one second at noon on one summer day of the year. You cannot really use peak capacity for solar, it does not compare with coal or natural gas power plants which can maintain such capacity constantly day and night, summer and winter.

Over the year and on a 24 hour period, I assume the capacity is probably less than 80 megawatts, which can serve about 60,000 houses fully, or more realistically, 100,000 during sunlight hours. Still a great feat, $1.8B makes it an initial cheap investment of less than $30,000 per house. I wonder what the operational costs will be, and I hope all the maintenance trucks are electric, not fossil fuel powered!

archonic

$1.8 billion for a plant that supplies electricity for 230,000 homes at peak capacity and 0 at night sure doesn’t sound like success. I know this thing is big but why is it so incredibly expensive? This is supposed to be the result of super cheap solar panels?

chimel31

Photovoltaics are still very expensive in the U.S., about twice as much as in Germany, for instance. There is an import tariff of 40% on Chinese panels, not sure that’s what First Solar used. But that’s the smallest part of the total cost, installation, frames, brackets and electronics are not cheap too, as there are still lots of manual operations, i.e. expensive labor costs. There is still lots of room for manufacturers to integrate electronics within the panels to reduce costs. See several articles in this blog:
http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Taking-the-Human-Factor-Out-of-Solar-Balance-of-System-Costs

dyota

First Solar builds their own panels based on CDTe technology. They have some of the cheapest costs in the industry at I believe currently $0.60/W. Their panels are lower efficiency 13-14% but this does not matter in expansive desert environments

Johann

China would love to have a import tax of 40%. Europe even would love to have an 40 % import tax.
Try 250 % import tax that china has to pay and 147% on import tax that Europe has to pay the US.

That is part of the reason why panels are still so expensive here in the US. The other part is that panels are traded as stocks and that is the very same reason that panels are kept high in price to keep the stocks up.

swimmer2010

Japan has a > 100% Import tax on U.S.A. manufactured automobiles…China’s import tax on U.S.A. manufactured autos is 300%!!! Different countries protect different industries…you are either ignorant of this FACT…or you are a hypocrite.

RobPaulGru

They are assuming the home is consuming 1.2kW for that number. That is not eve close to reality.

mike

redo your math and even if you have air and the rest of your house its unlikely to use more than 2 kw on constant load

Radu MArinescu

I pay $ 140 a month for electricity only in Long Island, NY. At $0.20/KWH that is approx.550 KWH per month that equals approx. 23KWH a day. Both my wife and I work. No kinds anymore.

Neil T

We’re not talking about kWH here (which is a quantity of energy), but about 290 MW, which is an energy production rate. If you run the panels for 12 hours and get 290MWx12 H, (ideal, not realistic,), that’s for 230,000 homes, that’s roughly 15kWH per home per day. Of course you won’t be producing 290MW of energy constantly in 12 hours of sunlight , but not everyone uses 15kWH per day.. the only thing I have running is the fridge, washer dryer once a week, and my family laptops. Air conditioning will take it’s toll though.

James

You’re speaking of volume where this is speaking of demand. 23KWh per day would be based on an average load: 0.96kW at any given time.

Demand and volume are different measures.

EMD

@archonic: The solar plant doesn’t need to run at night to shave a lot of demand due to the afternoon A/C loads on the grid. For utilities, peak loads are more expensive to meet than the base load. But even baseload coal plants are incredibly expensive when you factor-in the health impacts.

Joe

yes, cuz you shut all your electronics off at dark, right? oh, no, more people are at home, fire up their tv, their hvac, their radio, computers, etc..etc..etc…. So, you say we need more power when people aren’t using it (they’re at work, many of those jobs require zero electricity, then they go home and fire it all up at night.) You’re not a very logical person. Our power plants, coal, oil, what/ever put out VERY little “pollution”. and most of that is CO2 and if you think CO2 is bad, then……well……you’re too dumb to ever find a minimal level of common sense from which to operate in any logical capacity. Fact is, this power is transmitted for hundreds of miles before it’s even used, which means a vast amount of the power in lost in transmission. We have the same ignorant shit here in Oregon, sending wind power to Cali, but it doesn’t really do them any good as the power sent has greatly dwindled by the time it reaches it’s destination. If it was local, for local, maybe it’d be KINDA okay, but as with all of them, it’s pointlessly and wastefully sent hundreds of miles down the pike.

Kev

Joe, just talk to an untility an you will find that peek loads happen during the day. Business uses far more power that the individual. This is why rate are lower at night.

John Whitney Jr.

Joe: Transmission issues can be dealt with with a modern transmission grid (they’re doing it in China). High and ultra-high voltage lines greatly reduce transmission loss. And, you’re just flat out wrong about electrical load and demand. Demand drops dramatically in the evening and night (see a load chart from the US EIA: http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=830 ). Utilities can easily absorb as much as a 25% share of electricity generation from intermittent renewable sources in part because of this typical demand cycle.

Finally, our current fossil fuel plants are not clean. Our current fleet of coal plants nation-wide is aging and dirty. One of the dirty little secrets of the coal generation industry is that their existing fleet of 50 to 60 year old plants is about to age out of production. New plants can be built, but in order to meet current EPA standards they will end up producing electricity at a per kWh rate that is significantly higher. Solar PV, wind, hydropower, and geothermal generation is competitive and sometimes cheaper.

Steve

One of the items that is seldom brought up is the actual cost of connecting a project of this size to the electrical grid. The way most transmission tariffs are written the owners of the generation source must pay for the facilities to connect the “generator” to the grid. Since this solar farm is out in the desert it would be interesting to find out how many electrical substations were built as well as how many miles of high voltage transmission lines were put in to support this project. One substation alone can cost several millions of dollars depending on the configuration. If they had to build transmission lines of any length it would not surprise me if they spent over $100 million just to connect this project to the grid. Compared to $1.8 billion, $100 million is a relatively small piece of the total cost but it all adds up!

John B

What’s your point? All kinds of power plants incur those same costs. How do you get the electricity from any kind of power plant to the users? Are you sort of propagandizing people that only solar plants have all this additional transmission costs? What’s your point?

Jon

It was built right up the road from an existing power plant in Gila Bend. Very little additional transmission cable was required.

Andy

Rough numbers… $1,800,000,000/230,000 homes= $7,826… I would get in on that… but when you go this way 290,000,000W/230,000 homes=1,261W/home… Then again, maybe it is not that good of a deal… Am I missing something?

Kevin Schmidt

You couldn’t build a new coal plant in three years with only $1.8B that could produce that much electricity. Besides, the solar plant produces zero pollution. A new coal plant produces earth destroying carbon pollution, not to mention the extraction process that is also a major producer of pollution.

snuggles

That’s a fairly substantial DOE loan. I hope it doesn’t go the way of Solyndra.

Katie Fehrenbacher

The loan for Solyndra was for manufacturing — so Solyndra used the money to build a factory to make an expensive new type of solar panels that weren’t sold and then they went bankrupt. This loan is for a solar project using commodity solar panels — that’s way less risky. The money has already gone to building and finishing the project (now done), and the return over time from the electricity is pretty low-risk and well known.

Daniel

What a joke. It took 2400 acres of land to do this. Looks like Buffet has some major influence at the White House. Crony Capitalism.

Dave

Its the desert. Have you ever seen a desert? There’s nothing there… Unused land is pretty cheap.

William Johnson

Of what use is that land? How about the “endangered” Desert tortoise? various cacti? Various desert lizards, geckos, snakes, scorpions etc? The “environmentalists” would have us believe each of them is more important than any human life or activity. The “delta smelt” a minnow that thrives in the canals and rivers of California is so important protection of it has stopped irrigation of the most productive truck farming area in the world and the central valley of California has reverted to a desert. Farmers throughout the region are losing their livelihood. The 2400 acres of land shaded in perpetuity will change the climate in that area. We don’t know the effect yet. It may cause more clouds and rain in the area reducing the output of the solar panels. It may cause a permanent drought in the area. Noone foresaw the giant windmills becoming “Condor Quisinarts” devastating the bird population.

Balls

Nobody cares you idiot. Humans are more important than turtles. Period.

John Whitney Jr.

Stop and think for a moment: The amount of ecological damage done by utility-scale solar farms and wind farms is essentially nothing compared to the on-going ecological disasters of the Canadian tar sands and Appalachian strip mining. Or, for that matter, deep sea oil rigs (BP disaster), nuclear plants (Fukishima) and the still unknown long-term effects of fracking. And then, of course, for those of us who understand science, there is always the global climate change issue.

Sparky

@ Dave, Well guy, much to your dismay, this land was in production under irrigation until it was sold off to the power company. You might ask how I might know about it, it is on the interstate that we take to Yuma and San Diego when we go that way. It has been interesting to watch the construction of this mess, but it looks like the people in California are making ready to have some power when the majority of that cesspool falls off into the Pacific Ocean when the “BIG ONE” shakes the West coast. This land should still be in crop production to feed this country instead of solar power. There is hundreds of thousands of un-farmable desert land both in Arizona and California that could have and should have been used for this type of activity. When we run out of food or places to grow it, then we will see what is meant by what I have stated. NOT all land is able to be used as farm land to feed this country, especially if it needs to be irrigated, and there is way more of that kind of land just down the interstate about 25-35 miles. It is very rocky to the point of mostly rocks showing through what soil there is. It appears to be an old lava flow from thousands and thousands of years ago.

John Whitney Jr.

@Sparky: OK, so the free market doesn’t work for you (the land was purchased and is apparently more valuable in the marketplace for power production than farming… in part because it is immediately adjacent to existing transmission lines). And you seem to think irrigating the desert is a good idea. Sorry Sparky, you’re not making sense.

Desert Rat

Not when the environmentalists sue you for ten years trying to protect an endangered earwig.

David

2400 acres of desert land not worth a dam to anybody……..I wouldn’t give ten cents an acre for it until they have done this.im not a tree hugging liberal. my dad owned a sawmill and my grandpa had one. im a texas pickup driving redneck ant that’s my opinion. yall take care.

Kevin Schmidt

Hooray!
Crony socialism will stop global warming and save the planet!
Hooray!

R. Handy

Ahh, socialism. Again and again, socialism. Like the subsidies to oil companies, corporate farms and the wealthy via capital gains. Tax breaks and sweet contracts for defense corporations despite missed deadlines and faulty weapons systems. Socialism. The word only applies when its convenient. Socialism. How shall I cherry pick thee?

John Whitney Jr.

@Barry: What on earth do you mean by “crony socialism”? The plant is privately owned (49% by multi-billionaire Warren Buffet, someone who could never be confused with a socialist) and privately financed.

Kevin Schmidt

You’re bitchin’ about 2400 acres of worthless desert land?
Really? Looks like your comment is the joke.

Shadowed Tortise

Tell the snipers that aimed at Clive Bundy’s family that.

Lionel Brown

What about the snipers that aimed their guns at law enforcement officers? What about Coive using federal lands that other ranchers pay for and he doesn’t. Ignorance will get you nothing.

jackson

You must be republican. Negative with no facts to substanciate anything. Just negativity

noahproblems

Don’t think you have to use the S-word here. We’re talking about a project with a 25 year PPA…a guaranteed stream of revenue for power production. That’s a pretty risk averse bet. This is a great project. Kudos to all involved.

racindavid

That’s IF the panels continue to produce power for that period. They have a tendency to degrade from heat over time. 25 years is a long time…. Granted they have gotten better, but heat decays semicondictors and these run HOT.

Kevin Schmidt

Better than fossil fuel carbon pollution that makes the Earth run HOT!

Jay Alt

All those moving parts could wear out too. Maybe sun will stop shining or permanent cloudiness establish itself over rural Arizona. Soo risky.

Bryce

Even after several years at 120 degrees, silicon is still silicon. And with less than 1% degradation per year (ref. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/51664.pdf) 25 years is not a long time. Also, 25 years from now petroleum will probably be more expensive than today, sunlight will still cost the same.

John Whitney Jr.

First Solar warranties: 10 year power warranty, 25 year materials and workmanship.

R. Handy

Oh come on now. Of course its socialism. Like tax breaks for Exxon and Shell. Wait, that kind of socialism is ok. Like tax breaks for Whirlpool and GE. Wait, that kind is ok too. Like crop insurance subsidies for corporate farms. No, that kind is fine too. Oh hell I give up. Perhaps it is a Liberal scam.

UnionLeague

The project has a rate of return based on Utility business models and will be very profitable. MidAmerican is owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway and as you probably, the guy just mints money.

Michael

Solar farms earn plenty of money once they are built. Solyndra used an expensive technology to produce solar panels subject to global competition. ==>they became obsolete too quickly.

Kevin Schmidt

Ah, no because Solyndra produced solar panels that cost too much, and this is a solar farm that produces cheap electricity. Plus it has a captive buyer with a long term contract.

John Whitney Jr.

Loan guarantee… entirely different.

Marc Brandsma

I guess it’s more that a third of new electricity came from solar.

realist50

New electricity generated – or new peak capacity. They are, of course, dramatically different for solar (and wind), something that the renewables industry typically likes to obfuscate by citing numbers that reference only peak capacity.

Bob

If you live in SW, you’ll know how important that is…..even if that is all they are fulfilling. Why would you want to support natural gas or nuclear plants?….since that is our only viable alternative right now. Hydro-power is no longer a realistic option so what is our better alternative?

casey

would have been nice to have you include the cost and power generation of other methods? wind, coal, NG, nuclear? my guess is that solar isn’t competitive. i understand the other benefits (no pollution/meltdowns, etc), but you need to be more complete in the info provided?

Kevin Schmidt

If solar wasn’t competitive, they would have built another coal plant.
How much more info do you need? Personally, I think that even with reams of info you still would not believe solar is more competitive than any fossil fuel.

Jeff

I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Very unlikely that the money would have been available for a coal plant, while the powers that be are falling all over themselves to loan for”alternate ” energy sources.
I like solar, I like wind better. But they still are, by and large< vastly more expensive than "conventional" energy. And here lies the problem. The alterante energy crowd has a sympathetic ear in Washington these days, and is convinced that the more ground they can cover now, the cheaper alternate energy will become. And likely they are right. But the question is, can it become cheap enough to compete, dollar for dollar, with conventional energy? While significant inroads have been and continue to be made, I don't see it happening fast enough to make this the day that solar took over.

EMD

A large part of the problem is that the “dollar-for-dollar” comparisons don’t include the downstream costs of legacy (non-renewable and polluting) sources of energy. Putting a price on carbon pollution and health effects is not a way to punish today’s power users – it’s a way to fix our problems so we don’t dump them on our kids. “Sorry kids, problems got way worse on our watch, but the math just didn’t make sense to us. You fix it”.

Tom

The entire cost comparison is a mute point over the long run. Inevitability will make solar and wind more attractive in the ratio. We know for a fact that oil is a finite resource, we also know that the vast majority of “easy oil” has already been extracted. As supply decreases we know that the price will increase, naturally, regardless of market manipulation. On the other hand, I don’t see the resources to build solar and wind dwindling therefore production efficiencies and will continue to drive the cost lower. There will inevitability come a time when the cost per kwh for solar and wind will equal oil. Coal is a different story, but being that it is soooooo dirty, it’ll be relegated to obscurity over time.

Holmes

Uh, because it’s not. Someday, solar power will be able to compete without massive subsidies. It will need to be three times more efficient than it is now. And, BTW, I notice that solar power advocates never talk about how massive the energy/pollution footprint is of a solar power……strip mining, chemicals, transport, etc.

John Whitney Jr.

In Arizona, solar PV is only slightly more costly with new natural gas with carbon capture and is less costly than new coal with carbon capture WITHOUT SUBSIDIES. Factor in the 30% tax credit (a time-honored tactic used by state and federal agencies to encourage manufacturing and development), and solar PV in AZ is a really good deal (which is why Buffet has a 49% share of Agua Caliente).

Finally, you are flat out wrong about the “massive the energy/pollution footprint is of a solar power……strip mining, chemicals, transport, etc.” No basis in fact whatsoever.

EMD

@Holmes: It would be a better conversation if you weren’t making things up as you go. I’ve already answered the question of the footprint of PV panels on this very page 2 days ago.

And yes, I’m a proponent — I have 6.6kW of PV on my house and my monthly bill ranges from $0 to $95 while neighbors pay the utility $200-$350. I sleep better knowing that I’ve cut by 70% my contribution to mountaintop removal, coal burning, etc.

I especially enjoy sending less money to a utility that turns around and funnels money to buy off politicians and distort our political system. Down the road, you’ll see your beloved utility as bloodsuckers, the same way we now see the old phone monopolies (or even the new ones) :)

Buckeye Bear

APS was ordered to buy the output of this solar plant and others by the AZCC. Given that our current POTUS promised to bankrupt coal-fired plants, and is weel along that path, don’t think there are going to be many new coal-fired built in the near future. There is no data that makes utility-scale solar competitive with current combined-cycle plants.

John Whitney Jr.

Check out the US EIA Annual Energy Outlook for 2014. In the right region (like Arizona) utility-scale PV is quite competitive with coal and gas.

Insight

The exclusion of that information was not accidental.

Jeff Schimpff

Coal imposes a LOT of health costs for lung and heart disease, as well as property damage and impairment of our ability to enjoy the aesthetic wonders of our planet (look up photos of the pollution smudge frequently covering the Grand Canyon).

These costs are very significant, and have been externalized – i.e. people in many regions of the country pay these costs whether they use coal generated electricity or not.

When you add these costs to the cost we pay for coal generated electricity, solar is VERY competitive.

John Whitney Jr.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (US EIA) produces an annual report that is an exhaustive study the costs for all significant electricity generation systems.  Over the past several years the levelized cost for energy (LCOE) for renewables has been consistently dropping while the LCOE for conventional generation has been increasing. From the report:

“Levelized cost is often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies. It represents the per kilowatthour cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. Key inputs to calculating levelized costs include overnight capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant type.”

Note, the EIA AEO does not include external costs (like horrendous environmental and health costs associated with coal).  It also does not include any incentives that may apply to renewable energy generation (tax credits, renewable energy credits, rebates, et.).  This is a straightforward comparison that includes cost of development/ construction, capital costs, O&M, fuel, and a transmission investment (generally significantly higher for renewables). 

Also note that the AEO2014 estimates costs for new power plants, not existing (i.e., 50 year old coal plants).  It assumes a 30-year cost recovery period and projects a plant commissioning in 2018 (5-year development/ construction phase). See:  

For the AEO2014, see:

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

So here goes, national average LCOE/ kW hour from lowest cost to highest (from AEO2014, table 1):



$0.0479/ kWh:  Geothermal
$0.0663/ kWh:  Natural Gas, Conventional Combined Cycle (no carbon capture and sequestration)
$0.0845/ kWh:  Hydropower

$0.0803/ kWh:  Wind
$0.0913/ kWh:  Natural Gas, Advanced Combined Cycle with carbon capture and sequestration  

$0.0956/ kWh:  Conventional Coal 

$0.0961/ kWh:  Advanced Nuclear 

$0.1026/ kWh:  Biomass 

$0.1300/ kWh:  Solar PV
$0.1474/ kWh:  Advanced Combined Cycle Coal with carbon capture and sequestration 
$0.2431/ kWh:  Thermosolar (CSP)



Note:  The EIA further broke this data down into LCOE regional variation.  The LCOE for coal, nuclear, and natural gas generation had very little regional variation.  However, LCOE regional variation for renewables was quite broad (reasonably enough:  Wind generation in the Great Plains, solar generation in the Southwest states, and hydropower in the Northeast and Northwest states will all be much more productive).



Lowest LCOE’s in resource rich areas (table 2) in order from lowest to highest:



$0.0462 kWh:  Geothermal
$0.0611/ kWh:  Natural Gas, Conventional Combined Cycle (no carbon capture and sequestration)
$0.0616/ kWh:  Hydropower

$0.0713/ kWh:  Wind 

$0.0855/ kWh:  Natural Gas, Advanced Combined Cycle with carbon capture and sequestration 

$0.0870/ kWh:  Conventional Coal

$0.0923/ kWh:  Biomass
$0.0926/ kWh:  Advanced Nuclear
$0.1014/ kWh:  Solar PV
$0.1373/ kWh:  Advanced Combined Cycle Coal with carbon capture and sequestration

$0.1768/ kWh:  Thermosolar (CSP)

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