America has climate change on the brain. Between the Great Barrier Reef’s obituary and so. many. politicians. denying climate change, we need a hero. We need clean, renewable energy. And we need it in large quantities.
Enter SolarReserve: a California-based renewable energy developer that just announced a proposal to create the world’s largest solar facility in the Nevada desert.
But is their plan even possible?
The $5B Sandstone project would create enough energy for 1 million homes https://t.co/0OBKK8mq3F— Las Vegas RJ (@reviewjournal) October 12, 2016
The Sandstone Project
The proposed concentrated solar power (CSP) plant will use solar-thermal technology, which is more expensive than photovoltaic (PV) solar power, but has the ability to store energy and send power to the grid at night. The Sandstone project utilizes 100,000 mirrored heliostats to capture the sun’s rays and 10 towers equipped with a molten salt energy storage system. The salt, which is heated to 1,000 degrees, creates steam to power generators 24 hours a day.
SolarReserve’s massive project would cover 15,000 acres with an estimated $5 billion dollar price tag. If the project goes as planned, the CSP plant would generate between 1,500 and 2,000 megawatts of power — enough to provide energy for 1 million homes. To put that into context, that’s how much power the Hoover Dam or a nuclear power plant generates, and it’s far more than any existing solar facility. (The current largest CSP is the Ivanpah in California, which generates about 392 MW of power.)
Will It Work?
SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith admits to the Las Vegas Review Journal that “it’s an ambitious project,” but solar power hopefuls can rest assured: the same technology has worked on a smaller scale for SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes — a 110-megawatt facility in Nevada.
According to SolarReserve, Crescent Dunes powers 75,000 homes during peak hours, is completely emission free, and runs without natural gas or oil-generated power backup.
Reliable 24/7 power generation solves one of the most common hurdles of relying strictly on solar power. However, there are two factors that could hinder the project.
1. High Cost
Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Nathan Serota reports that the other green factor (money) is going to be a definite roadblock for the project. Serota said:
“Absent significant state- and federal-level subsidies beyond just the investment tax credit, there is virtually no way this project will be able to deliver electricity at a price that’s competitive today, much less five years from now.”
2. Environmental Impact
Environmentalist Janine Blaeloch of Solar Done Right is upset that the proposed plants would be located on public land in Nevada. “It transforms habitat and public lands into permanent industrial zones,” Blaeloch said in an interview with NPR.
The Race For A Brighter Future
In recent months, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) announced its own plan to create the world’s largest CSP plant. The first phase is expected to generate 1,000 MW of power, and it its anticipated completion date is 2021.
Hopefully, healthy competition between these major solar power developers will lead to timely, efficient technological advances — which will make large-scale solar power plants a reality in our near future.