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Solar Power Generation: Growth in L.A. and the Southwest

2012 October 19

October 2012 has seen significant decisions made for clean energy, particularly solar power generation, in the US, southwest, and California. I get pretty excited at news like this – clean energy has a bright future here.

Los Angeles Approves LADWP Clean Energy Plan

Solar PV power generationAccording to an article in the Huffington Post, the city of Los Angeles has made an impressive move to invest in clean power sources — particularly solar power generation — replacing dependence on coal-fired plants.  This is a smart move for many reasons, the most obvious one being reducing pollution from burning fossil fuels. It’s also smart for long-term savings. Even considering the initial investment, they will save a significant portion of the (currently) $500 million spent on coal each year. And as the cost of coal rises, that savings will be even greater.

One of the things I like best about this priority is that they are clearly not depending exclusively on developing new power plants, but on providing incentives for homeowners and businesses to install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate power for their own buildings which can then feed excess power back into the L.A. grid. It’s a brilliant way to reduce demand on power plants, and allows people to save significantly on their electric power bills while distributing solar power generation across a very wide area and spectrum of sources. And everyone benefits from cleaner air.

More exciting benefits with this approach include the increase of employment opportunities in construction, remodeling, electrical, solar, wind, and geothermal installation services. It can also boost local manufacturing jobs, since there are several manufacturers of solar photovoltaics, panels, wind turbines, and components in the L.A. region.

Concentrating solar power generating plantSolar Power Generation Projects in the Southwest

But that’s not all. There are a huge number of solar power projects across the country. Here’s a summary from the Solar Energy Industries Association:

  • “There are over 480 major solar projects currently in the database, representing over 31 GW (gigawatts) of capacity.
  • The list shows that there is over 2.2 GW of major solar projects currently operating.
  • There remains an enormous amount of capacity in the pipeline, with over 29 GW of PV (photovoltaic) and CSP (concentrated solar power) projects either under construction or under develop”

Check out the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Interactive Map of current solar power generation projects. Significant for the southwest is not only the number but the scale of solar power plants, both PV and concentrators.

SEIA solar power generation projects map image

Image courtesy SEIA

As Yahoo Finance reports in their article “Plan to streamline solar development in West OK’d” dated October 12, 2012: “Federal officials on Friday approved a plan that sets aside 445 square miles of public land for the development of large-scale solar power plants, cementing a new government approach to renewable energy development in the West after years of delays and false starts”.

Included in this plan is land designated as 17 new “solar energy zones” covering 285,000 acres in the six southwestern states. 153,627 acres – more that half the total area – is in Southern California alone. Furthermore, an additional area totaling almost 30,000 square miles was marked by the US Dept. of the Interior as “variance zones” – land on which developers may propose solar projects.

SEIA Solar Power Generation Projects Interactive Map Image SW section

Image courtesy of NASA, © 2012 Microsoft Corporation, © 2010 NAVTEQ; Data collected and indicated by SEIA

No matter how you slice it, nationwide that’s a huge number of projects representing an increase of more than 14 times the current solar power generating capacity in gigawatts. Even if only half of them are built, that represents a 7x growth. In the six southwest states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado and New Mexico represent most of the land in this landmark decision, the majority in California alone.

The days of slow incremental solar power development appear to be ending. This bodes well for dreams of energy independence, job growth, and cleaner air and water.

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