Report: Large-Scale Solar Power Plants Could Power Nation, Combat Global Warming and Create Thousands of Jobs
America could meet all of its current electricity needs with large central concentrating solar power plants according to a report released today, “On the Rise: Solar Thermal Power and the Fight Against Global Warming” by Environment America. These solar thermal power plants covering an area of 100 x 100-mile area in the Southwest, slightly more than what’s already been excavated for strip mining for coal across the country, could power the entire nation; while slashing global warming emissions. Because solar thermal energy storage allows electric generating capacity even when the sun is not shining, it can replace traditional energy sources like coal, natural gas and nuclear power.
"If we are going to get serious about fighting global warming and addressing our nation’s energy woes, solar energy must be part of the solution, said Anna Aurilio, Director of Environment America’s Washington DC office. “Tapping this abundant and clean domestic energy source must be a centerpiece of America’s energy, environmental and economic policies," she added.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has identified the potential for more than 7,000 gigawatts (GW) of concentrating solar power generation on lands in the southwestern United States alone - more than six times current U.S. electricity consumption. Other areas of the United States, such as the mountain West, the Great Plains and Florida, can also generate significant power from the sun.
“This report confirms what we in the industry have known for a long time – that utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) has the potential to provide a clean, reliable energy choice to power America and help us achieve national energy security in the 21st century,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C. “We agree wholeheartedly with the report’s recommendation to provide the proper incentives to encourage development of CSP plants. Specifically, it is imperative that Congress follows through on passing a final bill to provide a multi-year extension of the solar investment tax credit (ITC) -- a policy with support from over 85 percent of the American public,” he added.
Concentrating solar power development has accelerated dramatically since the beginning of 2007. More than 4,000 MW of solar thermal projects are in some phase of development nationwide and could be completed by 2012. However, solar energy tax credits that are helping make these projects cost-effective are set to expire at the end of the year, putting their future in doubt.
"Federal clean energy tax incentives are spurring investment, creating thousands of "green-collar" jobs, and helping reduce global warming pollution," said Anna Aurilio. "If Congress lets them expire, clean energy projects will grind to a halt," she added.
Concentrating solar power plants are increasingly cost-competitive with other power generation technologies that do not produce carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant. The cost of energy from solar thermal power plants is estimated to be competitive in cost with theoretical coal-fired power plants that capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions and with new nuclear power plants.
The report concludes that with leadership at the state and federal level and the right policies, that, putting 80 gigawatts, enough to power 25 million homes, of concentrating solar power in place by 2030 is within reach. This would have the potential to generate between 75,000 and 140,000 permanent jobs and cut global warming pollution from U.S. electric power plants by at least 6.6 percent by the year 2030.
Electricity generation accounts for more than a third of America's emissions of global warming pollution. “Concentrating solar power can make a large contribution toward reducing global warming pollution in the United States, and do so quickly and at a reasonable cost,” concluded Aurilio.