New US Solar Projects to Produce 17 Gigawatts, with Help From East Bay Companies



The United States' large-scale photovoltaic project pipeline will reach seventeen gigawatts this month and climb even higher in coming months, according to market research group SolarBuzz. That's the equivalent of about 26 new coal-fired power plants or 19 new nuclear power plants to be completed between now and 2015. The figure does not include solar thermal power, where mirrors are used to reflect solar energy to a central boiler, which then uses steam to produce energy. Oakland company SolarMillennium is building a one-gigawatt solar thermal plant in the California desert that will be the world's largest when it's completed in early 2012.

By comparison, China aims to hit ten gigawatts total solar power by 2015 and fifty gigawatts by 2020. Along with China, the US market, which formerly lagged far behind European countries like Germany and Spain, is now being recognized as one of the fastest-growing in the world.

The seventeen gigawatts in the US photovoltaic pipeline represent 601 pending projects ranging in size from fifty megawatts to five hundred megawatts, with planned completion dates between late 2011 and 2015. California accounts for 62 percent of the total US photovoltaic project pipeline, with other states in the top five including Arizona (9 percent), Nevada (5 percent), Texas, New Mexico, and New Jersey (2 percent each). In all, forty states have pending projects.

Oakland companies BrightSource, Solar Millennium, and FirstSolar, as well as Richmond company SunPower, have large-scale solar-power plants in development in the California desert. BrightSource's 440-megawatt Ivanpah plant broke ground first, but SolarMillennium's 1,000-megawatt Blythe solar thermal plant, the world's largest, is likely to come even sooner.

This is great news for renewable-energy development and California's greenhouse-gas reduction goals. However, as covered in our December 2010 article "Oakland Invades the Desert," there's often an environmental cost to pay for large-scale solar development.