At Nanosolar, we believe very much
that meaningful scale for solar will come foremost from utility-scale
solar power plants, in particular from municipal solar power plants of
2-10MW in size. These are rows of solar panels mounted onto
the ground of free fields at the outskirts of towns and cities, feeding
power directly into the municipal electricity grid.
A 2MW municipal solar power plant requires about 10 acres of
land to serve a city of 1,000 homes - that’s acreage
generally easily available at the outskirts of any city of such size in
even the most developed countries. Similar for a 10MW plant
for a city with 5,000 homes: This would require five such lots.
Solar panels are mounted onto rails above the ground in solar
power plants so that grass and flowers can continue to grow in between
and below the panels, protecting the local ecosystem. Care is
taken that rainwater can flow in between adjoining panels to nourish
the flowers and organisms below.
Municipal solar power plants integrate very naturally into the
existing landscape as well as the existing electricity grid.
By feeding power into the grid directly at municipal voltage levels
(typically 20kV), they even avoid the expense of a substation for
down-transforming power from high (multi-100kV) transmission voltages
as required by conventional power. Furthermore, the solar
power plants utilize power inverter electronics with increasingly
intelligent features which enlightened utilities around the world are
now recognizing as a very good way to improve grid power quality
especially at the outer branches of the electric grid where power
quality is hard to manage otherwise.
In any region with a decent amount of sunshine, there is no
more economic way of reliably providing municipal power during the day
than through a municipal solar power plant.
Ground-mounted solar power plants are installed in
industrially streamlined ways, with specialized tractors deploying
standardized substructure components according to standard system block
designs to achieve optimal cost efficiency.
While rooftops are surely a good application too for solar
panels, it is a business that’s difficult to scale rapidly in
a truly meaningful way. Crawling onto rooftops and mounting solar
panels in compliance with building codes is fundamentally always a
somewhat more expensive proposition.
Municipal solar power plants can be deployed at a different
level of efficiency and speed. This is just not yet known
very well to the public, particularly in the United States and
California (where we have California Solar Incentives which are
adminstered by the state utilities and which presently rule out this
most cost-efficient form of installing solar).
But towns and cities throughout Europe and Asia have already
proven the concept, and more and more - increasingly entire counties in
fact - are now implementing plans to go 100% renewable based on a mix
of solar and biofuels. It works, it is economic, and it is
possible now. (Any U.S. utility executive who desires to
learn more should join this trip.) It is a silent revolution
going on that the press rarely reports about.
A good exception is an article today in our local newspaper
– “Local communities reach for power over
energy” (SF Chronicle) – describing how Marin
County in California is wrestling with going for local renewable
power. We salute their effort. It is well timed,
smart, and with a lot of foresight. They are on the right track based
on what we see happening in our own industry and in energy overall. In
a few years, they will have less expensive power than it is available
in the rest of PG&E territory.
The amount of activity going on behind the scenes in readying
technologies, sites, and financings for such is tremendous, and this
will become very visible to the public in many locations in the United
States in 2010. There is a reason why one of the world’s
largest power producers invested in Nanosolar.
Municipal solar power plants are an avenue for delivering a
GigaWatt of local power through one solar farm each in a few hundred
cities - local to where the power is needed - as opposed to
constructing a new coal-fired or nuclear plant. They can also
be deployed very rapidly. (It takes 10-15 years to get a new
coal plant done; a solar plant can be done in 12 months - provided no
administrative blocks exist).
But now is the time for cities and counties to lay the
adminstrative foundation for having their own power, 100% renewable, if
they care to make a difference by then.