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Solar Energy Reshuffle: Photovoltaic vs. Concentrating

In the coming year, a two billion dollar Ivanpah solar power station will be up and running in the Mojave Desert. Located right below Las Vegas, this plant acts like one huge reflector and is stretched across 3,500 acres of public land. The desert-dwelling station will begin to provide green electricity to two of California’s largest utilities. As a result, these two facilities will be able to provide electricity to 140,000 homes.

Solar Energy Reshuffle: Photovoltaic vs. Concentrating - Longhorn Solar

So how does the solar energy station work? Well for starters, 173,500 computers guide the sunlight onto the mirrors of the plant’s towers. Then, the sun’s rays generate heat to boil water inside the three 45-story towers of the plant, producing steam that runs the inner, electrical turbines.

The Ivanpah solar energy station originally was a project that was financed by a portion of the $9 billion in federal stimulus funds that was directed by President Obama for green energy. Utilities in California rushed to sign long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) in order to comply with power company requirements such as gaining a third of electricity from renewable resources within the next decade.

Western states signed agreements with developers including those who design solar farms such as Ivanpah. Concentrating solar energy at solar farms was a more favorable option than its rival technology, photovoltaic (PV) solar. In photovoltaic technology, solar panels convert the sun’s rays directly into electricity and is more costly. In the long run, the rush to sign agreements with concentrated solar power plants was not the best idea.

In the last three years, the tables have turned and economics have made PV energy more advantageous. PV panel prices are on the decline and have become more efficient at producing power. Projects in place to include concentrated solar plants are being converted to PV technology or canceled all together. Large PV plants can now produce power about 52 percent cheaper than concentrated solar plants, quite possibly making Ivanpah the last of its kind to be built in the United States.

(Source: Bloomberg Buisnessweek)