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Power United States Science Technology

US Pays $2B To Develop Concentrating Solar Power Projects 219

Posted by samzenpus
from the everything-collecting-the-sun dept.
coondoggie writes "The US Department of Energy today said it was conditionally committing $2 billion to develop two concentrating solar power projects that it says will offer 500 megawatts of power combined, effectively doubling the nation's currently installed capacity of that type of power. Concentrated solar systems typically use parabolic mirrors to collect solar energy."
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US Pays $2B To Develop Concentrating Solar Power Projects

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @04:28PM (#36454852)

    A link to the actual press release [energy.gov]

    First of all, these aren't grants or direct money (as the summary seems to imply), they're loan guarantees. And if you read the press release, it's pretty clear this is a helluva lot less about producing clean energy than producing jobs in California.

    Like so many government-funded and government-backed programs these days (NASA, I'm looking in your direction), this is basically a just a jobs program. Some Senator gets to go back to his district and say he created jobs. Whether these plants actually ever create any energy is anyone's guess.

  • by chemicaldave (1776600) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @04:37PM (#36454920)

    Whether these plants actually ever create any energy is anyone's guess.

    Without loan guarantees we would never know one way or the other.

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @04:41PM (#36454970)

    Is concentrating solar power into "power plants" the best way? Wouldn't it make more sense to distribute the collection over a large area, namely every persons house?

    Big businesses make better campaign contributors than "every persons"

  • Price per Home (Score:5, Insightful)

    by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @04:42PM (#36454978)

    $2B in loan guarantees for 100,000 homes. I wonder if they're guaranteeing the entire cost of the plants or just a part of the financing.

    That would work out to $20k per home.

    Average monthly bill for a home is approximately $100 a month. So $1200 per year. 12 year pay-off ignoring operating expenses and maintenance.

    Sounds like a good investment.

  • by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertouristNO@SPAMxmsnet.nl> on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @04:53PM (#36455104)

    You need both. Solar power is low-density, so you need a lot of area to gather enough power.

    When you install PV on rooftops, it doesn't provide enough power for buildings with more than a couple of floors. I did some calculations recently for my own apartment building: a roof full of PV panels provided just enough power for one floor of the building, assuming the national average domestic power consumption.

    CSP can supplement power generation for high-density areas (cities). It can also easily provide nighttime power by using heat storage. This is more difficult to do with house-sized PV (you need huge battery banks in each house, or a central storage system, e.g. a pumped water storage facility).

  • by PinchDuck (199974) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @05:07PM (#36455280)

    You're right. What company in their right mind would want to produce something that is going to be in constant and ever increasing demand? They would have a guaranteed customer base, guaranteed scarcity, and guaranteed profits. Yup, no company in their right mind would ever want to be a part of that. Thank God that Uncle Sam is here to fill the gap. We should pour money into projects like this right up until the day we default.

  • Re:Price per Home (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @05:08PM (#36455298) Homepage

    I can't speak for solar, but with wind, O&M is generally less than a fifth of the construction cost. I'd expect solar to be even less.

    One nice thing about solar relates to grid stabilization. With wind, any turbine you add to the grid destabilizes it. At low penetration, the effect is quite small, easily dwarfed by demand instabilities, mind you, but it's still worth consideration. With solar however, at low penetrations, you're offsetting the increased demand that bright, sunny days impart to the grid. Low penetration of solar over a broad geographical area actually helps stabilize the grid, even without energy storage. Note the "geographical" component, mind you; having just one plant is vulnerable to the "a cloud just showed up" phenomenon (unless we get a smart grid, or at least a data exchange with power-hungry industries; barring that, you need integrated or standalone peaking -- although integrated peaking is pretty darned easy (see SEGS))

  • by nonguru (1777998) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @08:23PM (#36457412)
    I seem to remember a posting on Slashdot regarding "anti-intellectualism" amongst nerds. Not everything in life has to have a direct dollar value. Pure research may not have a direct practical outcome - ever - and when it does, it involves decades-long pay-off times, but I would not be arrogant enough to write it off totally. Some things have a 'utlity' value - it's valuable because we derive satsifaction from discovering new knowledge. (And I'm an ex-engineer having been involved in the most utilitarian of industries, i.e. telecoms switching, automotive electronics, airborne radar, etc. all of which rely on somebody else having done the basic physics covering electronics design over previous decades of research.)
  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @09:21PM (#36457942)

    Only if you don't mention it to the realator or inspector. Otherwise it will increase the resale value of your home, much as any other improvement would. Savings on the electrical bill can be quite easily factored into price and should factor into the "is it worth it" equation.

    Sorry, no.

    Improvements do add to the value of a home, but not anywhere near what they cost in general. Remember, I'm talking about the USA here, and in America, there's one thing both buyers and their loan officers look at when buying and financing a house: cost per square foot. Adding $30k in solar panels doesn't add any square footage, but it adds a lot of cost. So if you try to price your home accordingly, the buyer and bank are going to see that and shy away in favor of a cheaper home. Even if the buyer is smart enough to understand a higher monthly payment equals much lower electric bills, the bank isn't going to care: their appraiser is going to say "this house has a much higher price/s.f. than all the comparables in the area", so the bank is going to refuse to finance it unless the buyer ponies up a much, much larger downpayment.

    This is basically why all the lower-end houses (i.e., less than $1 million) here (esp. new ones) are cheaply-made pieces of shit, because it doesn't pay to buy quality. The buyers (the ones you'll be trying to sell your house to when you're ready to move on) don't care, and if they do, they can't get financing, so you won't recoup your investment as you'll have to drop your price to be competitive with all the other POSes in the area. Sure, you'll be able to get a few thousand more for a nicely fixed-up home than one that's as cheap as the builder could make it, but it won't be enough to recover your investment in fancy plumbing fixtures and granite (and solar panels), so if you buy those things, make sure you're buying them for your own enjoyment, not because you think you're going to get your money back, because you won't.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @10:52PM (#36458418)

    Not a Dime. It's a a loan guarantee. It's entire purpose is to allow the borrower to borrow the money to build at government interest rates (currently 3%) rather than the market rates that would likely be MUCH MUCH higher for a power plant with an unproven design (by unproven I mean there aren't 50,000 of them). Something like this helps develop technology like this without high interest rates that make the project uneconomic. Because the reality is you can't build a power plant and make money at 9% interest rates and only proven technology (as in 20% of the nations power is generated by the technology) is given market rates.

    The single greatest barrier to the development of new technology is the interest rate barrier that applies to such projects. Banks assume because it's not "proven" that there is a higher risk of default and charge much higher interest rates. Those higher rates make projects ROI negative or so small as to essentially make the project worthless. If we want to move away from Coal power and to carbon-less sources of power we MUST provide loan guarantees and grants to move the projects from theory to reality. Unlike what politicians these days like to tell you the purpose of government is help move the infrastructure and the country as a whole forward. When you put market forces behind infrastructure you inevitably end up with little to no progress without economic incentive to move forward. Coal is cheap, the technology is proven, if we want to move away from coal (and I do) then Government needs to help find the alternative technology that's just as good because the reality is the banks don't like risk and power is a business where margins are razor thin. Power and Energy are national security issues, we've forgotten that as a nation, particularly if people like you post such sarcastic posts and ignore the reality of the market and it's driving forces.

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