Many people expressed interest in the hybrid concentrated solar and natural gas plants discussed here: Game changer 3: New natural gas supplies “” great for low-cost climate action, bad for coal. So I asked guest blogger, Craig A. Severance, to do some research, and the result is below (first published here). Severance is co-author of “The Economics of Nuclear and Coal Power” (Praeger 1976) and a former Assistant to the Chairman and to Commerce Counsel, Iowa State Commerce Commission. He recently did one of the most detailed cost analyses publically available on new nukes (see “Exclusive analysis: The staggering cost of new nuclear power“).
By far the largest source of safe, clean energy that will never run out (i.e. renewable energy) available in the United States is the sunlight falling on the unused deserts of the Southwest. This attractive source of energy produces no nuclear waste, no carbon dioxide or mercury emissions, and none is imported from foreign countries.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy enough sunlght falls in just the unused, nonsensitive areas of our SW deserts to generate over twice the total kWh’s now consumed in the entire U.S..
SW Solar Now. In June, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opened up 24 of the SW’s sunniest areas on Bureau of Land Management lands in six states to begin leasing for installation of up to 100,000 MW of solar power plants. (See here for article on the Interior Department announcement). The first plants could be operating within 3 to 4 years in these ideal locations, which were chosen for maximum clear sunny days and minimal impact on the environment or other land uses.
Sun Doesn’t Shine All the Time. Although the SW sunshine resource is enormous and largely untapped, critics of solar energy routinely note the sun does not shine all the time. The implication is that power is needed all the time, and since the sun is not always available, solar opponents say it would be foolish to invest in generating electricity from the sun.
Grid Can Use Solar. Utilizing solar electricity when the sun does shine is not really a major problem for the electric grid, until the percentage of power generated by solar reaches high percentages. This is because roughly 50% of the electrical capacity on the grid consists of load-following power plants (chiefly natural gas and hydroelectric), which can quickly reduce power output when a renewable resource such as solar or wind is available, and increase output when needed. The ability of the grid to absorb a high percentage of power from renewables has been documented by the U.S. Department of Energy and was discussed in my article “The Wind does NOT Blow Only 1/3 of the Time” here.