When the large solar farm outside of Las Vegas opened up, there were many that stated that this type of solar panel, and the way it was installed, would soon become irrelevant. Just last week in late January of 2015, there was another large solar farm that opened up and turned on in California called Mojave Solar, built by Abengoa, but it could be the last of its kind due to changing solar thermal and panel incentives and the instability of economics.
These large solar panel farms usually consist of rows and rows of solar panels that directly convert the sun’s energy into electricity. Solar thermal farms, on the other hand, use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight to heat liquid that produces steam, thus making electricity from a turbine using the heat of the sun. Most of these projects can provide enough solar power for upwards of 80,000 homes, Mojave Solar included. Abengoa in a statement said that the Mojave Solar site alone, which is a 280MW solar thermal farm, will generate around $196 million in tax revenue over 25 years, provide around 2,000 jobs, and will help meet California’s state mandate to generate 1/3 of its electricity from clean power by 2020. But, even though these solar farms are very useful, they might become ‘extinct’ or no longer built. It was only a few years ago that there was a boom in solar panel construction and installation due to the price of the panels dramatic drop due to the federal investment tax credit (ITC), that gave developers a 30% tax credit for solar projects. But, by the end of 2016, this tax credit is expected to drop to 10%, threatening the further construction of large scale solar panel farms.
As of right now, stated in the New York Times, there are no future large solar thermal or panel projects planned in the United States. Due to the uncertainty of whether or not installing solar panels on a large scale will continue to be cheap, there are many companies that have cancelled solar thermal sites in the US, deeming them no longer economical and began focusing internally on a smaller scale. Also, large solar loans are no longer regularly coming out of the Department of Energy as the used to. When Ivanpah was built in Vegas, they procured a $1.6 billion loan and Abengoa and their Mojave Solar received a $1.2 billion loan.
Now that these large scale solar panel and thermal farms are going to begin to disappear, at least in the United States, it’s time to look towards the continually growing residential solar power installation and businesses installing solar panels on their buildings. Utilities look at, and compare the costs, of building natural gas plants and other types of clean power, and if solar is not going to be the cheapest or other energies are cheaper than solar, it’s an easy decision for companies. But, although we may start seeing the decline in large solar panel and thermal farms in the US, there is a possibility of them continually being built in countries across the world, including China and Africa.
What or where do you think the future of large solar panel and thermal farms is? Leave a comment below!