Joe McGuirk's Comments

April 17, 2015

Solar Flux Solution Brightens Future of Concentrated Solar Power

Thanks Susan for pointing out an excellent engineering learning curve example that has been realized because SolarReserve had the foresight and influence to adopt the technology preferred by southwestern US utilities 40 years ago, when the first serious attempts were made to investigate large scale solar. When compared with other solar and/or other renewables, and/or any other energy option, the SolarReserve model must compete with a bewildering array of variables. My sense is that SR’s approach will find a meaningful niche in the future energy mix, and the revelation about aiming algorithms for stand-by will help secure that niche. I was dismayed many years ago when Brightsource/Google decided to build Ivanpah without storage, thereby using a large amount of capital on a system with limited flexibility to operate on a utility system. The future of PV vs. CSP will play out as a race between heat and electricity storage.

February 10, 2015

Five Landmark Renewable Energy Projects from Around the World

Thanks for helping publicize solar advancements. For Ivanpah, I would suggest that a much bigger failure than its first year performance occurred when the plant was built without thermal storage. (By the way, identifying Ivanpah as a thermal storage plant is completely misleading. Thermal storage for this type of Concentrating Solar Power plant most commonly refers to large scale storage tanks that retain collected solar energy for night and cloudy times.) Brightsource's failure for Ivanpah occurred because they did not want to take the additional risk of adding thermal storage to the design. So the plant is only 'run of the sun' and does not offset other generation resources at night or on cloudy days. Contrast this approach with the Solana plant in Arizona and Crescent Dunes, plants which do have thermal storage. Note that Brightsource's proposed next power tower plant, Palen, is slated to include thermal storage, although its future is uncertain at this time.

All in all Ivanpah is a tremendous advancement for central receiver solar plants. Hopefully the intersection of money, power and influence will present itself again in the near future so that the storage failure at Ivanpah can be corrected for this size plant.

December 10, 2014

Can Solar Companies Really Be Called ‘High-tech’?

Back in the day when SunPower was developing its 'point-contact' solar cell, the figure of merit for comparing this cell innovation with computer microprocessors was to contrast the number of layering steps in the semiconductor fabrication process to achieve the finished product. For example, the SunPower cell required about 40 steps, whereas a typical microprocessor would need about 200 hundred steps. So the industry professionals dubbed the solar cell a "jelly bean", because it was much simpler to make than a microprocessor. Also, the competitive nature of microprocessor deployment and the industry’s ability to innovate improvements in microprocessors (Moore’s law) drives ‘high tech’ R&D. Solar cell improvements will always be simpler vs. microprocessors & storage. It’s just the physical nature of the beast. But other ‘low tech’ improvements in solar, i.e. soft costs & installation, etc., are very crucial in establishing competitive solar.

November 17, 2013

US Solar Surge: Flipping Switches on a Hoover Dam of Utility-scale Concentrated Solar Power

Actually the original SEGS plants started during Reagan's administration, not Carter's. So I guess that makes Reagan a big government guy after all. Right? The original SO (standard offer) contracts for SEGS were about 16 cents/kwh vs. the going rate at that time somewhere in the 5 cent/kwh range.

Also, how genuine is 6 cents/kwh for 'other' alternatives when the identification of their subsidies is ignored? Nice going, free market.

October 09, 2013

US Conservative Voices Grow Louder in Support of Renewable Energy

Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC to ultimately conquer the Roman empire. Is the author suggesting that Georgia Power is the modern day Caesar? If so, that's a pretty provincial point of view, even for a story focused on states' rights. The biggest solar issue at the state/utility level now is net metering. Don't know what GA Power is doing about that, but the heavy-hitter states & utilities in this arena will provide the true Rubicon moment.

March 22, 2013

Ready or Not: Arizona Takes Steps Toward Incentive Free Solar

The ACC is not part of the Executive branch of Arizona government, as defined as those parts of government administratively responsible to the governor.

The 5 commissioners are elected by state-wide vote and operate independently of the executive branch. From its webpage it is described as follows: By virtue of the Arizona Constitution, the Commissioners function in an Executive capacity, they adopt rules and regulations thereby functioning in a Legislative capacity, and they also act in a Judicial capacity sitting as a tribunal and making decisions in contested matters.

On 7 US states have elected commissioners.

May 06, 2012

What Do Solar Investors Want?

I would suggest that the writer of this article sharpen her pencil with respect to the statement: "That fee should amount to a lower electric rate than what they pay to their utilities." Taking this statement at face value is a dis-service to the emerging solar industry.

The fee by itself amounts to an increased cost to the homeowner. The word "should" is the problem. What are the probabilities that "should" will occur?

The issue is: Will the increased cost of the lease fee be offset by lower utility bills? Who knows? It's a crap shoot. People who want honest dollars and cents talk know better. They want to see real world results. Who has those? Are they well known? A few actual success stories would go a long way.

I invested $18,000 in a 2 kW PV system in 2006. I live in Arizona Public Service Company's service territory. I have 'net-metering'. I have 'netted' less than $2.00 in 6 years. I'm not complaining, because I made the investment not to save money on energy, but to see how the solar system performs on my house. More people should ask questions like: how well does the system perform? what will the utility rate be in 5 years? what is the kilowatt-hours per kilowatt rating for the system in the location they are in?

May 08, 2012

What Do Solar Investors Want?

WillDeliver: Interesting analogy, ROI of EV vs. PV. In my case, transportation fuel costs are only 50 - 60% of what I pay for electricity. Assuming that the cost of an EV would get me another 6 kW on my house, I would expect the ROI to be greater for the PV investment. Both fuels will escalate in time. Wouldn't want to make a living saying which will go up faster.

March 14, 2007

Community Supported Energy Offers a Third Way

I agree with Frank that just waving your hand at the 'community' is not enough. I have given considerable thought to this type of issue for Arizona, in order to get larger amounts of solar generation in place. The result is an idea to solicit an aggregation of customers who can afford the additional cost of solar, and have them commit to long term purchase agreements that would be of interest to both the utility company and a project developer. The old economies of scale still hold true for energy generation (the bigger the plant, the lower the unit cost). More details on my approach can be found at under the SEID (Solar Energy Improvement District) link. If you have questions or comments, e-mail me at

December 21, 2006

What Does the Future Hold for Solar Energy Farms?

Scott's answer to the solar farm question reflects a typical small-is-beautiful attitude about solar. Photovoltaic installations on buildings hardly qualify to be included in a discussion of solar farms. Solar farms should engender a vision of installations such as the Kramer Junction and Harper Lake solar trough facilities in CA. If solar wants to be a player in the energy business, it's going to have to get past the small-is-beautiful, rooftop paradigm. Solar farms are the way to meaningful contributions from solar, and they won't be built on rooftops. They'll be built in large stretches of desert. And the sooner the better, as far as I'm concerned. How about a paradigm shift and some advocacy? It's going to take a sizeable change in perspective to overcome the wholesale vs. retail cost problem facing solar farms, let alone the small-is-beautiful argument.

October 08, 2006

Wind Energy in Texas Gets $10 Billion Boost

Governor Perry should be congratulated for leading this initiative.

One comment about the transmission capacity concern. More attention needs to be paid to higher conductance materials for the transmission lines. In Arizona where I live, a local utility company has just upgraded a small part of its system with an aluminum ceramic core conductor that doubles the capacity of the line.

Obviously this technology can greatly alleviate transmission capacity concerns. But there's one catch - for long distance lines that serve perhaps several states, a scheduling problem exists in being able to take the line out of service to make the changeover. Ingenuity needs to be applied to solving this problem. One possible solution is the "live-line, bare-hand" transmission maintenance procedure.

If Texas can identify a good solution for this problem, Arizona would be more than happy to use it to help place in service large solar energy fields!

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