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Growing The Solar Grid

By Kim Robson

We’ve discussed the importance of renewable energy many times here on Green Mom. Installing a solar-powered photovoltaic (PV) system in your home produces zero emissions and can run for decades. As a new generation of young, environmentally-minded Americans come of age, they are seeking ways to outfit their homes with solar energy. It’s been a slow start for solar power, but finally it is gaining momentum in the public’s awareness as exciting new projects come online.

solar-energy-homeJust this past March 2013, 100% of the new energy sources added to the U.S. electrical grid came from solar power plants! The latest numbers from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) show that, for the first time in history, ALL of the new capacity added to the grid during the month came from solar power.

This came about partially because no other types of power added any capacity that month. Solar power officially grew by 44 megawatts (MW), a considerable amount for a single month. That’s enough electricity to power 44,000 homes — homes that won’t be using energy created by non-renewable and polluting coal, gas, oil, or nuclear.

In just the first quarter of 2013, solar has added 537 MW, and wind power, 958 MW. That’s enough to power 1.5 MILLION homes. Wind alone accounts for more than all other sources combined. Compare that to 2012’s numbers: more coal and natural gas was added, but wind and solar still came in with strong numbers.

But it’s the growth of solar power that’s really skyrocketing. In just the first three months of 2013, we’ve already added TWICE as much new solar capacity to thesolar-panels-for-home U.S. grid as we did in ALL of 2012.

The amount of solar energy powering homes, businesses and military bases in America has increased sixfold since 2008, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In 2012, the U.S. brought more new solar capacity online than it did in 2009, 2010, and 2011 combined, leading to predictions that solar power will be our greatest source of new energy during the next four years. March’s numbers were produced in part because of a huge new solar power plant coming online. NRG Energy’s Borrego Solar in San Diego County, California, added 26 megawatts to the grid in March. An additional 15 MW are expected to become available from Borrego Solar in June 2013.

The largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant (in Abu Dhabi) currently operates at 100 MW, but Brightsource Energy is about to blow them out of the water with a massive 392 megawatt CSP plant in the Mojave Desert, 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas. Their Ivanpah CSP plant, five years in the making, should come online this year if all goes well. It uses 170,000 heliostat mirrors on 4,000 acres to focus concentrated solar energy on boiler towers.

All of these renewable energy projects don’t come without an environmental impact, though. In the spring of 2011, concerns about the impact on threatened desert tortoises in the area temporarily stopped the Ivanpah project construction. Construction continued after 127 tortoises were relocated to other parts of the Mojave Desert. In 2012, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) issued a report critical of the Ivanpah project, citing concerns about scarce desert water resources, damage to desert vistas, and impacts on important desert plants and animals.

Let’s remember that, if solar plants are constructed in a responsible way, they can provide much-needed energy to the grid while also creating a stewardship for fragile ecosystems. Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources will help protect these ecosystems from the increasing effects of climate change.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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