392 megawatts, 173,000 heliostats, 347,000 mirrors, $2.2 billion investment and a $1.6 billion federal loan. These are the tremendous numbers surrounding the development and construction of the Ivanpah solar thermal power facility in the Mojave Desert, 40 miles south of Las Vegas. Such a plant, who can energizes up to 140,000 houses, is a massive solar energy provider, but with the decrease of governmental incentives and the collapse of some rival technologies’ prices, are giant solar plants still a viable option?
According to Matthew Feinstein, senior analyst at Lux Research, “I don’t think that we’re going to see large-scale solar thermal plants popping up, five at a time, every year in the U.S. in the long-term — it’s just not the way it’s going to work,” he said. He also added “Companies that are supplying these systems have questionable futures. There’s other prospects for renewables and for solar that look a lot better than this particular solution,” Because if solar thermal sounds a little bit confusing and complicated to understand, do not worry it’s because it is.
Solar PV Energy
Executives involved in the Ivanpah project, a venture among BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google, are optimistic in this technology and are confident that it will get easier to finance once the first results will appear. But since this project was approved in early 2010, the solar market has dramatically changed. Solar panels, based on photovoltaic technology (PV), using the sunlight to directly generate electricity, have encountered a massive drop in price in the last few years, leaving solar thermal technology as a much pricier one. Looking at growth of both thermal and PV, we can see a clear stagnation of solar thermal electricity generation compared to solar PV.
Smaller PV solar panel installations seems to be now the future of the industry as it is moving toward a distributed generation on rooftops and away from large solar farms like Ivanpah. Solar PV panels are recognized to be much easier to install and in fact many DIY enthusiasts have decided to learn how to install solar panels by themselves. Though some experience is generally required or recommended, installing solar PV panels is approachable to all and can be learned quickly through various solar panel installation training courses.
We are not too worried about Ivanpah’s capacity to generate profit, power purchase agreements have been found with local utilities for the next 20 years and as we mentioned large companies like Google, who invested $168 million according to CleanTechnica, backed up the project and will surely see a decent return out of it. But the interesting outcome here is to see how the solar industry has changed in a little less than four years, we entered a phase where not only big corporation but also the public are generating interest and want now to seize this technology. The next few years should be pretty exciting to follow.