There is no doubt about it – solar energy is big in California, and it’s getting bigger each year. In fact, the new solar energy law passed just this May mandates that all newly built homes be fitted with solar panels starting in 2020.
Solar panel installation companies, such as Action Solar estimate that the cost of the construction will increase somewhat, but that the savings will be compensated through lower electricity bills over the following years.
However, California is not known as the solar power capital of the USA just because of homes and offices with solar panels. A large portion of the solar energy capacities of the USA is located in California, more specifically in the Mojave Desert.
Why the Mojave Desert
One of the main reasons why the Mojave Desert is so attractive to solar energy companies is because it is sparsely populated, flat and well insolated. What’s more, it is not too far from important population centers, so the loss of electricity produced isn’t too big.
Solar Capacities in the Mojave Desert
Seeing how this is prime land for solar power, it is small wonder that these capacities were among the first ones ever created. In fact, the first commercial solar plant was built here in the 1980s.
In total, the Mojave Desert is or was the home to nine different projects of different capacities and types. Some are still active, whereas others are decommissioned or repurposed.
Solar One and Solar Two
These two projects are solar tower power plants. In essence, a lot of mirrors are pointed towards the central tower which serves as a receiver. The mirrors are stationary, but they are sun-tracking, which helps them collect as much solar power as possible.
Both of these projects were decommissioned, the first one in the 1980s, the second one in 1999. Despite no longer being active solar plants, they are still used as proof of the viability of solar power even in the times when solar wasn’t as popular.
Solar two had another particular innovation, which is a molten salt tank. This tank was better at preserving heat which enabled it to produce energy well into the night and during really cloudy days.
Solar Energy Generating Systems
Another project which started in the 1980s, Solar Energy Generating Systems is the collective name for 9 separate solar systems of the trough type. They are still operational and they produce around 350 MW.
Trough type solar plants use parabolic mirrors which reflect the heat of the sun onto the pipes filled with a liquid which then powers steam turbines to produce electricity.
Desert Sunlight Solar Farm
This is a photovoltaic power plant, which uses solar panels, much like those used on residential homes by https://actionsolar.net/ and similar companies, but on a much larger scale. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm has the capacity of 550MW.
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
This facility is another example of a solar tower facility. It is located on the border with Nevada and it has a total capacity of almost 400MW.
It is also one of the newest projects in the Mojave Desert, with the first electricity produced in late 2013, and only became fully operational in February 2014.
Mojave Solar Project
The project consists of two solar power plants, which all use the parabolic mirror trough technology to produce around 250MW.
The government actually funded this project in part in order to show support for the growing solar technology.
Antelope Valley Solar Ranch
Another project which was partly funded by the government, the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch has the capacity of around 230MW, which are generated using the photovoltaic panel technology.
It started producing electricity in 2013 and reached its full production capacity in 2014.
There are other projects in the Mojave Desert, such as Nevada Solar One and Copper Mountain Solar Facility but they are located in Nevada, so we will skip them in this recap.
There is very little doubt that solar energy will be a big part of our energy production in the future. That’s why it is important to invest in new technologies and develop the existing ones and California is a leader in this field.