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Obama announces $2 billion investment in solar PV manufacturing and “the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use “ even at night.”

By Joe Romm on July 4, 2010 at 4:33 pm

"Obama announces $2 billion investment in solar PV manufacturing and “the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use “ even at night.”"


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“What’s more, over 70 percent of the components and products used in construction will be manufactured in the USA”


In his weekly radio, the  President announced he was putting $2 billion into two solar energy projects, including Concentrated solar thermal with storage (aka solar baseload).

CSP remains “The technology that will save humanity.”  And we are seeing more and more plants in various phases of construction (see “Total of 8500 MW of CSP planned for 2014 in U.S. alone“).

The easiest way to deal with the intermittency of the sun is cheap storage “” and thermal storage is much cheaper and has a much higher round-trip efficiency than electric storage.  The ability to provide power reliably throughout the day and evening in key locations around the world (including China and India) is why CSP delivers 3 of the 12 – 14 wedges needed for “the full global warming solution.”

Obama made this announcement in his weekly address:

In fact, today, I’m announcing that the Department of Energy is awarding nearly $2 billion in conditional commitments to two solar companies.

The first is Abengoa Solar, a company that has agreed to build one of the largest solar plants in the world right here in the United States. After years of watching companies build things and create jobs overseas, it’s good news that we’ve attracted a company to our shores to build a plant and create jobs right here in America. In the short term, construction will create approximately 1,600 jobs in Arizona. What’s more, over 70 percent of the components and products used in construction will be manufactured in the USA, boosting jobs and communities in states up and down the supply chain. Once completed, this plant will be the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use – even at night. And it will generate enough clean, renewable energy to power 70,000 homes.

The second company is Abound Solar Manufacturing, which will manufacture advanced solar panels at two new plants, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. A Colorado plant is already underway, and an Indiana plant will be built in what’s now an empty Chrysler factory. When fully operational, these plants will produce millions of state-of-the-art solar panels each year.

Contrary to some misreporting on this — which suggested Obama was doing this now because he was “sensing the merits of  a stepwise energy plan given congressional  divisions on a big energy and climate bill” — the White House explains in the fact sheet that this is just part of Obama’s ongoing, aggressive effort to advance clean energy that dates all the way back to the Recovery Act (see also EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!):

The Department of Energy today announced $1.85 billion in conditional commitments for loan guarantees to be issued through the Recovery Act to build or expand two new solar projects, which awardees estimate will directly create over 5,000 jobs. Together, the projects (which include facilities in three states) will not only drive additional economic activity across the industry and down the supply chain, but also help establish U.S. leadership in cutting edge solar technology. These commitments represent the 12th and 13th conditional commitments for loan guarantees issued by the Department of Energy, for a total of $14.8 billion in loans to support $22.4 billion in job-creating clean energy projects.

Obama has been  leader in pushing clean energy — doing more than the previous presidents combined — but he knows that absent a price on carbon, you just can’t get absolute emissions reductions nor can you pay for federal side of the clean energy R&D and investments that are an integral part of the solution (see “Obama pushes Senators for energy bill with carbon price “” and so does Olympia Snowe (R-ME)“.  Whether he is going to apply enough political pressure to get a carbon price — whether that is even possible in this political climate — however, remains to be seen — see The unbearable lameness of being (Rahm and Axelrod).

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34 Responses to Obama announces $2 billion investment in solar PV manufacturing and “the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use “ even at night.”

  1. Prokaryotes says:

    2 Billion for solar and 500 Billion for oil :(

    White House Solar Panels

  2. Peter Mizla says:

    The President is making the appropriate policy for Solar energy.

    However It seems like there has been a energy policy absent for 30 years- Obama has made a wimpy step forward —to tittle to late

  3. pete best says:

    Too little too late – I suggest the opposite for its better to be at 450 then 550 ppmv CO2.

    CSP is one of the major answers in this puzzle along with energy efficiency and massive on/off shore wind power generation and a new grid to carry it all eastwards. The USA has some good spots for CSP and gas can assist here to as its relatively low CO2 compared to coal and oil. Hydro can be tied in to. Its gotta start now and solar to be made cheap and cost effective.

  4. Anne says:

    What was the process used to select these two companies? I’ve been looking for the word “competitive” or “compete” and they don’t appear in the announcement or the fact sheet. I think if Obama and the Dems don’t want to leave themselves wide open for accusations of “picking winners and losers” or engaging in the sort of sole-source contracting so prevalent in Bush-Cheney-Iraq-war-racketeering-Halliburton-Blackwater evilness, then this deal needs to pass muster. Someone — Obama/Chu/Browner — needs to articulate the path that led to the “conditional” awards and defend them offensively before even needing to sound defensive. I mean, it’s politics 101, right?

  5. Anne says:

    Oh, and a postscript. Abengoa Solar has a headquarters in Spain, and many of the members of the corporate governance have Spanish names. Air-tight, transparent provisions will need to be articulated so that we won’t be accused of a handout to Spain, even indirectly. Good to know all mfgring will state-side and all installations, of course. But — where will all the profits go? Important to know that little factoid up front, and to keep this transaction squeaky-clean, US-centric, with built-in communications/PR operations fast, effective response to any poison arrows from the fossil-fuel special interests. It’s a no-brainer!

  6. SecularAnimist says:

    This is just the sort of investment that the Federal government should be making, so my thanks to the Obama administration for supporting these projects.

    In particular, with regard to CSP, it is important not only that they have financially supported this particular project, but that by doing so they have raised public awareness of the CSP technology and its enormous potential. I would guess that of the major technologies that have the MOST to offer to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, that CSP may be the LEAST known and understood by the public. The wind turbine has become the common, widely used symbol of clean energy — which is fine — but CSP power plants should be as widely and instantly recognizable to the public as wind turbines.

    Having said that, I cannot help but wonder how many CSP power plants or advanced PV manufacturing facilities could be funded with the money that Obama plans to squander on the “clean coal” hoax and the nuclear power boondoggle?

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    pete best wrote: “The USA has some good spots for CSP …”

    “Some good spots” is the understatement of the year.

    CSP power plants on only FIVE PERCENT of the USA’s desert lands could generate more electricity than the entire country uses.

    And of course, distributed PV on scales from individual residential & commercial rooftops, to municipal utility scale, could generate most of the USA’s peak demand electricity locally.

    And then there is wind. And geothermal. And hydro. And biomass.

    We can generate more clean, renewable electricity than we know what to do with — we can replace ALL fossil fuel consumption for electricity generation and (by electrifying ground transport) vehicles inside of ten years — EASILY.

    It is impossible to understate how important it is to certain wealthy and powerful industrial interests that the American people MUST NOT KNOW THIS.

  8. Robert says:

    I’m not American, but I don’t see the importance of keeping it an all-American project. Climate change is a global problem and solutions will have the biggest political impact if they involve international investment and technology.

    If we are ever to overcome the challenge of climate change it will be a triumph of cooperation over competition on the grandest scale. It won’t be proving that the Americal economic model is superior to the European model, or that America technology is better than Chinese technology.

  9. Peter Mizla says:

    As per Geologic History 400ppm CO2 will melt the ice cap and Greenland, and begin substantial melting of the south polar ice continent.

    Will 400ppm or 450ppm have any effect on the conservative head in the sand troglodytes in Washington?

    As Dr. Hansen has warned- 380ppm is the tipping point- we are now past 390ppm—the tipping point is history. We are in a Brave New World.

  10. catman306 says:

    But at least we might be receiving truthful information from the Oil Spill Website. Will be controlled by US.


  11. Ken Johnson says:

    “Giant gravel batteries” are being developed for wind and solar energy storage. Would this approach also be applicable to CSP?

  12. DavidCOG says:


    Joe, you might want to take a look at the latest atrocious, sensationalistic piece from Fred Pearce in his ongoing campaign against climate scientists re. ‘Climategate’: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/04/climatechange-hacked-emails-muir-russell – it’s so bad he quotes Curry and Pielke Jr.

    To make it even worse, the Guardian have linked it from their home page.

    [JR: Sad. Pearce jumped the shark.]

  13. Bill Woods says:

    This isn’t a $2 billion “investment”. The government isn’t putting any money into these projects, it’s just co-signing the loans.

  14. Bob Wallace says:

    Bill -

    Making a loan guarantee means that the government is putting tax money at risk. If the project spends money but folds before paying off its loans then the government has to step forward and pay the balance.

    It’s not an “investment” in the way that most of us use the word, but it is an investment in the broader sense of the word. No money up front but the possibility of having to pay up later.

    (It’s the same deal as is being offered to Southern Company to build a couple new nuclear reactors, but much smaller. About nine times smaller.)

  15. Ronald smith says:

    Looks like bribes. No open bidding. We have a corrupt government giving no bid work to Spain. Halliburton is clean comparred to this.

  16. gallopingcamel says:

    Given the huge projects in Denmark, Germany and Spain it is embarrassing to discover how far behind we are.

    Fortunately, we can learn from the mistakes of other countries. Take a look at a recent draft report by Dr. Gabriel Calzada Álvarez at the Rey Juan Carlos university:


    This report quantifies the number of jobs created by green technologies in Spain and also the corresponding number of jobs lost (ratio of 1:2.2). It discusses how these findings may apply to the USA.

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    Ronald, 15# “We have a corrupt government”

    Could it be that human approach to existence with our own environment, is fundamentally flawed? Meaning human error in every branch of modern society. Everyone is doing what he has learned and adapted for survival. The basis of our every day life has become too complex to grasp – originated from environmental pollution.

    The question is, when do we really start with the global transition to a clean energy future? How much worse must climate change appear, till the environment is the key priority?

  18. rjs says:

    how much would the electricity generated by these arrays cost if that $2B were amortized?

    and how much coal generated electricity will it take to build the panels, and how much diesel fuel will it take to mine the materials, transport the panels, and build the arrays?

    ie, what is the EROEI?

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    “how much coal generated electricity will it take to build the panels, and how much diesel fuel will it take to mine the materials”

    Good question. You could recycle e-waste and use BECCS to compensate the carbon footprint later you can use renewable energy for the energy needed during the construction processes.

    “ie, what is the EROEI?”
    Do you mean Energy Return of Energy Invested?

    The solar plant powers 70.000 US households and 3500 jobs (1500 permanent jobs).

  20. Prokaryotes says:

    China Fears Climate Effects as Consumer Class Rises

    Premier Wen Jiabao has promised to use an “iron hand” this summer to make his nation more energy efficient. The central government has ordered cities to close inefficient factories by September, like the vast Guangzhou Steel mill here, where most of the 6,000 workers will be laid off or pushed into early retirement.

    Already, in the last three years, China has shut down more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants that used technology of the sort still common in the United States.

  21. Bill Woods says:

    Bob Wallace: “It’s the same deal as is being offered to Southern Company to build a couple new nuclear reactors, but much smaller. About nine times smaller.”

    The nukes will produce about 17 times as much power. And displace disproportionally more coal power.

  22. Alex Carlin says:

    Look. According to Hansen’s emails to me, if we don’t have a clean (non-carbon) electric grid by 2030, we guarantee enough warming to melt enough of the ice caps to doom cities like New York and Miami from sea level rise. Period. So we, as a movement, must call for something that actually addresses the problem. No more time to indulge the deniers – the science is in. Therefore we need to agree on a catchy “demand” that will break through this inertia that otherwise will doom our society. My suggestion is “100 MILES OF MIRRORS”, because that is enough of this Solar Thermal Power that can supply 100 percent of our electric grid. Same for China, same for India, same for Europe (from Sahara). Any other ideas out there that will actually result in avoiding catastrophic climate change? How else can we act quickly enough? Do we have time for “12 wedges” and things of that nature? Really? By the way, if we all did as much good daily work as Dr. Romm here we would be on our way to a fine future…its all about the cumulative work that we all do on this issue that will decide what happens.

    [JR: Alex -- the 12 wedges go way beyond 100 miles of mirrors!]

  23. Prokaryotes says:

    In the Philippines, methane from trash is being recycled into energy.

  24. fj2 says:

    20. Prokaryotes, Very encouraging article in the NY Times:

    “China Fears Consumer Impact on Global Warming”

    Now that China has the will it will soon find the way to be the first modern society addressing the true power of human capital; elevated bike and walkways in major cities seems to be a start on a broad base of 430 million cyclists and 120 million using electric bicycles with many times less than one percent the environmental footprint of transportation systems based on cars when infrastructure and all externalities are considered.

    Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute’s Factor 10 is a good start and design has to be for both top and bottom of the pyramid technology transfer.

    This also fits nicely within Lovins’ RMI frameworks based on natural and most important human capital providing the potential for high levels of optimization and something it’s apparent China has proven track to capitalize on.

  25. Bob Wallace says:

    Bill – It takes far longer to build a nuclear plant and bring it on line before it starts to reduce coal.

    Southern Company might be able to build their two new reactors in a decade or so, but there is no ability to build large numbers of reactors quickly as we have both no ability to forge large numbers of containment domes nor do we have trained engineers and construction workers. The lack of skilled personnel is largely what it forcing Finland’s new reactor to a near 15 year build time.

    (There is the option of building “AP1000″s without a forged containment dome, but that leaves us with reactors which might turn very sour in an earthquake or hit by a large jet.)

    CSP, on the other hand, can be built and installed quickly as there are no ‘exotic’ components or skills. We can simultaneously build dozens of CSP installations and quickly bring them on line.

    That means many years of avoided carbon release when we most need it. Right now.

    Furthermore, we could discuss safety (including the creation of new prime terrorist targets which require more government expense).

    And the unsolved problem of nuclear waste disposal.

    And the NIMBY problems of reactor siting.

    And the cost of the electricity produced by nuclear. It’s already projected to be the most expensive way to produce new electricity. Craig Severance’s study finds that electricity from new nuclear could be in the $0.25 to $0.30 per kWh range.


    Then you have to take that “double the current US average retail price” production cost and pile most of it into the peak hour market.

    New nuclear will not be able to sell for anything close to cost of production during off-peak hours. Wind at a nickle will dominate that market. It is already starting to in places like Texas and Spain. Since nuclear plants can not quickly shut down in order save costs (nor can they push the pause buttons on loan interest) they will have to dump their nighttime power onto the grid at a loss.

    (Wind at a nickle supplemented by backup storage and gas peaker plants will be cheaper than new nuclear.)

    Now new nuclear will have to attempt to recoup those losses out of peak hour sales. Let’s say, in an attempt to be kind to new nuclear, that it costs nuclear 20 cents per kWh to produce power and they loose 15 cents per kWh half the 24 hour cycle due to low off-peak demand and high 5 cent supply. Now their cost for the ‘other half’ of the 24 hour cycle is 35 cents per kWh.

    Here’s what they are up against during the day. Ausra’s California CSP plant is expected to produce electricity at 10 cents a kilowatt-hour starting in 2010. And the price should fall to 8 cents a few years later as it adopts systems with fewer parts and economy of manufacturing/installation kicks in. Add in a few more cents for peak evening hour storage and nuclear will still find itself priced out of the market.

    New nuclear, it’s a fool’s bet, IMHO….

  26. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Alex Carlin at 22 -

    Before assuming we don’t have time for “12 wedges and things of that nature” it’s worth observing that Joe Romm’s careful skilled analysis put the capacity to build Solar Baseload at 3 wedges, and that one of the various reasons for this is that the granting of a monopoly to a single energy supply technology would invite both staunch opposition (expending more precious time) plus operational catastrophe as weather events precluded production. Consider the solar input during say India’s monsoon season.

    By your account Hansen’s prescription seems rather arbitrary in its foundation – will America having a non-fossil grid by 2030 have some defined effect on global GHG output to halt the ice-caps’ melting ? Or is this a rhetorical prediction ?

    It would appear that you may be walking into a trap – set by US nationalists and the right wing – of being panicked into supporting the ‘market-solution’ of building US non-fossil energy plants to compete unilaterally with those of other nations (which plan cannot hope to address either the range of GHGs nor the urgency of doing so) while failing to support efforts for a global climate treaty, under which the US and others will have to commit to commensurate action.

    The fact that there is a thirty to forty year timelag on airborne GHGs’ warming impacts, and that ending GHG outputs will do nothing significant to reduce the airborne CO2e ppmv that is driving the interactive feedbacks’ acceleration, means that ending GHG outputs is a necessary but insufficient component of the requisite strategy. Even getting that far cannot be done without the treaty’s agreement, which makes it the first global priority, however distasteful that may be to the US establishment.

    So mind how you go!



  27. TimKelly says:

    Following up on Alex Carlin’s comment, why not make “Power Without Pollution!” the battle cry? It’s short, to the point and can be easily envisioned by the public.

  28. fj2 says:

    26. Lewis Cleverdon, “global climate treaty”

    Bad air quality at elevated temperatures can be a toxic mix as well as many other qualities of bad design and practice based on antiquated ignorance of technology and environmental issues and there are likely many more powerful practical, self-interest, and moral incentives despite a dearth of climate treaties advancing mitigating and adapting the accelerating environmental devastation forced by global warming.

  29. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    fj2 -

    spare me a few more commas ?

    If “there are likely many more powerful practical, self-interest, and moral incentives”
    refers to incentives for commensurate action to occur globally on a unilateral competitive markets basis, I’d be interested to see evidence of their effectiveness to date.

    I’d point out that opposition-in-principle to the vital UN treaty was the basis of policy under Bolton, Cheyney & Bush. Since when, Obama has enhanced the verbage, but has thus far maintained the two decades of US stonewalling.

    But maybe I’ve misunderstood your post ?



  30. Alex Carlin says:

    Replying to Lewis Cleverdon at 26 – Thanks for the good points: first let me make clear that while calling for “100 MILES OF MIRRORS” we also welcome all other clean energy. The more wind power the better, for example. Our goal is a clean electric grid. The more wind power we have, the less miles of mirrors we may need. The point is that we, as a movement, must DEMAND SOMETHING that gets the job done – and the demand must be simple or it will dissipate into the clatter. So, we use “100 MILES OF MIRRORS” as a way to say “this gets it done, we demand it – but if there’s a whole lot of wind power coming online then we will accept less than 100 miles”. Secondly, Hansen’s point is not arbitrary. Its his “80 percent solution”, that is, 80% of the problem can be dealt with by creating a clean grid. For example, this allows electric cars to be recharged cleanly, rather than on a dirty grid which just adds GHGs. So, if each world sector achieved their own 100 MILES OF MIRRORS, we would have our 80% solution. Third – I am in no way supporting a market solution as you put it – my model is more to do with how the government seems to have no problem financing war budgets that have nothing to do with the market. The idea is that we need to get this clean grid done, and 100 MILES OF MIRRORS is cheaper and easier than any other way. And Lewis – I am totally in favor of a global treaty, and there is nothing about 100 MILES OF MIRRORS that conflicts with that goal.

  31. Bob Wallace says:

    From Joe’s piece…

    “…thermal storage is much cheaper and has a much higher round-trip efficiency than electric storage.”

    Got numbers?

    I think we need to put cost figures out as often as possible.

    When I check around I find that as of a couple years ago CSP was somewhat more expensive than the $0.105/kWh US retail average price but expected to drop. (The US Department of Energy in 2007 stated that CSP cost about $0.12/kWh at the time but expected the cost of CSP to drop to around $0.05/kWh within ten years.)

    Wind and CSP at a nickle per kWh means that when the wind is blowing (almost always) and the sun is shinning we can economically solve our energy problem with renewables. What we need is economical storage to fill in the gaps (along with more $0.10/kWh geothermal).

    I’d love to see a frequently updated page which compared the cost of generating power from all the possible methods. The market will decide which systems we build in large quantity. Informed individuals will help drive that market.

  32. fj2 says:

    29. Lewis Cleverdon,

    “China Fears Consumer Class Impact on Global Warming,” Keith Bradsher, NY Times, July 4, 2010


    “Already, in the last three years, China has shut down more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants that used technology of the sort still common in the United States. China has also surpassed the rest of the world as the biggest investor in wind turbines and other clean energy technology. And it has dictated tough new energy standards for lighting and gas mileage for cars.”

    Perhaps I may be misguided, mistaken, whatever, but to my knowledge China has not been signatory to any international agreements stipulating actions mentioned in the NY Times quote above.

    They have just deemed it to their benefit to do so.

  33. Alex Carlin says:

    Replying to Tim Kelly at 27: “Power Without Pollution!” – yes this is an excellent suggestion for a “battle cry” as you put it. But the reason that I prefer “100 MILES OF MIRRORS” is that your phrase is one click more “general” – that is, I think we need to demand an actual “thing” and not a “condition” or general principal. If we had a huge public call for “Power Without Pollution” that would be a pretty great situation, but the response might be “we agree, and we are working on it…”, with construction a ways down the road, whereas if we had a huge public call for “100 MILES OF MIRRORS” the chances for actual construction would be more immediate in my opinion. But I really do like your idea, your phrase.

  34. Alex Carlin says:

    replying to [JR to Alex -- the 12 wedges go way beyond 100 Miles of Mirrors!]: yes, personally I like the “12 wedges” solution very much. The question is, what should the “average Joe” demand? 100 Miles of Mirrors, if replicated in each world sector, would acheive Hansen’s 80% solution. I can imagine this actually happening: masses of regular folks demanding 100 Miles of Mirrors, leading to their construction. Its much harder for me to imagine masses of people demanding “12 wedges” and acheiving their implementation because it is one magnitude more complicated. But, yes, it is POSSIBLE. And in fact “12 Wedges” is a shorter phrase than “100 Miles of Mirrors”! So, let me suggest a debate – which is a better demand for our movement: “12 Wedges” or “100 Miles of Mirrors”?