The age of Big Solar could be upon us--provided that the government continues to provide the right incentives for bringing renewable energy to scale. The New York Times reported yesterday that two large solar plants will be constructed in California, which together will put out more than 12 times the amount of electricity than the largest such plant today:
The power will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, which is under a state mandate to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. The utility said that it expected the new plants, which will use photovoltaic technology to turn sunlight directly into electricity, to be competitive with other renewable energy sources, including wind turbines and solar thermal plants, which use the sun’s heat to boil water.
As the Times Dot-Earth points out, this is a good example of what can happen when there's a guaranteed market for renewable energy. But what also struck me is how government mandates like California's can help bring down the price point by virtue of scale. The three companies behind the plants were forbidden by contrast to disclose the expected cost per watt of the PV-powered energy, but all said their costs "would be much lower than photovoltaic installations of the past." By supporting such large-scale projects, the government isn't subsidizing pricey technologies indefinitely; they're encouraging cleantech companies and venture capitalists to invest in R&D and commercialization of these new energy sources. It's just a question of putting the pressure points in the right places.