Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Sun shines for all, but just a few grab it

Solar-electric plant at the Air Force's Nellis Base.

The plant, which just went online this week, is the largest single photovoltaic plant in the U.S., beating out Google's by a hefty margin.

The plant uses traditional silicon PV cells and provides enough power to juice about a quarter of the Air Force base. Really, 14 MW is still a pretty insignficant amount of energy. And this plant doesn't approach the production power of Nevada-One, a solar thermal plant. But many people believe that the true future of solar power is converting the sun's energy directly into electricity instead of using the heat from the sun.

The project is financed by MMA Renewable Ventures (which we wrote about last week) and the panels and installation work was done by SunPower.

Solar-electric projects like this are more expensive per kilowatt than solar-thermal plants. However, they are more efficient and take up less space. And it's possible that photovoltaics, if mass produced, could eventually become cheaper than solar thermal.

And the only way to drive the price down is to provide incentives to produce them. This project is certainly doing that, which we're happy to commend.

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