Environment Forum

Defense Department to test concentrating photovoltaic technology

Skyline Solar Array_CenterLine - cropped_1The United States Department of Defense has signed a deal with Silicon Valley startup Skyline Solar to test its concentrating photovoltaic technology at military bases in California and Texas.

The Pentagon, one of the nation’s biggest consumers of energy, has emerged as a driver of new green technologies in an effort to wean itself of imported oil, reduce its carbon footprint and improve national security.

Earlier this year, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pledged that within a decade the U.S. Navy would obtain half of its energy on land and sea from renewable sources. Back in 2007, the Air Force commissioned SunPower to build what was then the country’s largest photovoltaic power plant at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

According to the agreement announced Tuesday, Skyline will build a 100-kilowatt solar array at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California and another 100-kilowatt system at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas.

At first glance, the company’s power plants resemble solar thermal parabolic trough installations that deploy long rows of mirrors to heat tubes of liquid suspended over the arrays to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Report: U.S. utility-scale photovoltaic industry set to boom

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With NRG Energy’s announcement on Tuesday that it will invest $450 million investment in a California photovoltaic project, the New Jersey-based power provider has pledged a total of $750 million for big solar plants in the past two months.

A new report from GTM Research indicates why NRG sees such sunny prospects for the solar business. According to the researchers, utilities in the United States already have signed contracts for 5,400 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic power plants that will be built by 2014 with another 10,100 megawatts in negotiation.

The U.S. utility-scale photovoltaic market is expected to grow from $1 billion in 2010 to $8 billion by 2015, the report said.

Nevada’s solar building boom

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Over the past three months, California regulators have made headlines by licensing seven huge solar thermal power plants that would generate nearly 3,500 megawatts of electricity if all were built in the Southern California desert.

Garnering far less attention is a solar building boom that is getting under way in neighboring Nevada, which eventually could build plants that send electricity to California as well.

In October, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the  Silver State North Solar Project, a 60-megawatt photovoltaic power plant to be built by First Solar on 618 acres of government-owned land near the casino town of Primm 40 miles south of Las Vegas.

Utility makes big bets on solar technology

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As solar panel prices have plummeted over the past year, photovoltaic power plants have become a more attractive option for utilities under pressure to meet renewable energy targets.

Case in point: Late last week utility Southern California Edison announced it had signed contracts for 239.5 megawatts of electricity to be generated by 20 small-scale photovoltaic farms.

“Photovoltaics are definitely more cost competitive than they were just a couple of years ago,” said Mike Marelli, director of contracts for renewable and alternative power at Southern California Edison. “We’re seeing just a wild response to our solicitations for projects.”

Feinstein wants her desert and solar, too

California Senator Dianne Feinstein is fuming over a federal plan to use some Mojave desert lands to develop solar power plants and wind farms.

In a letter to Dept. of the InteriorSecretary Ken Salazar, Feinstein said she planned to introduce legislation that would protect the former railroad lands, thereby preventing the federal government from leasing them to renewable energy project developers. The 600,000 acres in question were acquired by and donated to the government’s Bureau of Land Management between 1999 and 2004 for the purpose of conservation.

“I have been informed that the BLM now considers these areas open for all types of use except mining.  This is unacceptable!” Feinstein wrote in a March 3 letter made public last week.

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