The experts aren't kidding when they say the deserts of Southern California could be one of the largest solar-energy sites in the world.
Nine large-scale solar thermal projects that have or are to go before the California Energy Commission by year's end could produce 4,100 megawatts of power (by some estimates, enough to accommodate 4.1 million homes) and 8,000 construction and 1,000 operational jobs, state officials said.
They would also boost California's renewable energy efforts, and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. The state wants utilities to have renewables produce 33% of their power by 2033.
"These approved solar projects continue to demonstrate the importance of harnessing the power of the sun for clean, renewable energy for California's communities," Energy Commission Chairman Karen Douglas said in a prepared statement.
Some of the solar projects stem from a partnership between California and the Department of the Interior (DOI). In October 2009, California was the first state to sign a memo of understanding with the DOI to develop long-term renewable energy plans through state and federal permitting processes that can receive 30% federal tax credits under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
On Sept. 29, two of the largest plants - totaling almost 1,000 megawatts in Riverside and Imperial counties - were licensed. They had to be approved before Dec. 31 to qualify for federal funds.
The Riverside County development would use parabolic trough technology, where parabolic mirrors are used to heat a transfer fluid which is then used to generate steam. Electricity is produced from the steam expanding through steam turbine generators.
Its counterpart in Imperial County would use solar dish Stirling systems, or "SunCatchers", consisting of a solar receiver heat exchanger and a closed-cycle, high efficiency engine designed to convert solar power to rotary power, then driving an electrical generator to produce electricity.
Not to be outdone, the sun-drenched Central Valley of California also is bursting with solar-energy proposals.
Supporters say double-digit unemployment, ample sun resources, acres of out-of-production farmland and proximity to the power grid help make the region ideal for an emerging solar industry.
The proposals come at a time when the solar market in some parts of the United States is expanding, but also facing criticism that solar is too expensive
. In California, out-of-state oil companies are financing Prop 23 which, if approved, would suspend the state's landmark global warming law.
California and New Jersey were the largest state markets in the first half of the year. The second half could be even stronger. "Many projects will rush to commence construction in order to meet eligibility deadlines for the cash grant program, and some of these will ultimately be connected to the grid within the year," according to the report.
More than 120,000 systems were connected to the grid in the United States through June, including 100,000 residential systems. Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey and New York each installed more than 1,000 systems in the first six months of 2010.
California also has attracted billions in clean technology investment capital. In the first half of 2010, it received 40% of total global investment. Since 2006, it has received $11.6 billion, or 24% of the total, according to "2010 California Green Innovation Index" put out by a nonprofit research group, Next 10.
However, not all is rosy. In addition to the threat posed by Prop. 23, which goes before voters next month, some green -energy companies are electing to leave California or setting up operations in other states or countries, according to this report by Joseph Vranich
, an Irvine-based relocation adviser.
(Photo by Solitem.com.tr)