I was quite impressed by the Ivanpah solar power plant, initially. Then I realized that there’s zero existing infrastructure in the desert (ie. roads and power lines), where utilities and conglomerates want to build utility scale solar power plants in general. Precious and fragile desert habitat is destroyed. Then the reports about bird death’s came in, and my initial positive impression turned into disgust.
Solar power generated on residential and commercial rooftops on the other hand is fed back into the grid. On residential rooftops especially, during the daytime when no one is home that would need that power, it can be utilized for other purposes during peak hours almost 100% (if people turn off their cooling or use a smart thermostat so that they don’t run their A/C when no one is at home, of course).
According to this report/video, Ivanpah produces 390 Megawatts of “clean” power at the moment – at the cost of about 6000 bird lives per year. If there’s anything like karma, I hope it will bite the people involved in this insanity back. No one saw this coming? Incredible. Or even worse, people saw it coming and shrugged it off, like in the video, “oh it’s acceptable and doesn’t threaten any species” – seriously? You’re killing thousands of innocent animals for nothing, and that’s okay? That really makes me totally mad.
I say “for nothing” because our (tiny) rooftop solar system with 10 panels has a theoretical maximum capacity of 2.65 Kilowatts. When I look around in the neighborhood though, most neighbor’s solar systems are bigger. We haven’t reached the theoretical maximum output yet with our panels, and I don’t think that their efficiency can be 100% anyway, so we’re producing a maximum of 2.2 Kilowatts, up to now (all in all, around 16kWh per day, in early September).
So let’s say that the average rooftop solar system is capable of producing what, 3 Kilowatts? That would mean that we would need 130000 rooftops with a (small) solar system to replace “one Ivanpah”. Does anyone really want to tell us that we wouldn’t have these rooftops readily available? San Diego has a population of about 1.3 million. The greater San Diego area is home to ~4 million people. Some areas of San Diego have the highest rooftop solar installations percentage in the US – with only about 25% of rooftops having solar! Which means that 75% of rooftops are currently not used to produce solar power.
Needless to say, not all roofs will work to generate solar power (the weight may be a problem with some older homes, that kind of thing), and not all ~4 million people in the greater San Diego area live in a home where they can install solar. So let’s add commercial buildings and parking lots to the mix! I love the idea of putting solar panels in parking lots: generate energy, and people can park in the shade! It’s friggin’ awesome. Dozens of other applications where shade would be beneficial come to mind.
And again, in residential areas, everything is developed already. The power infrastructure exists. Rooftops are unused, empty space (except for a couple of pool heaters). The installation of our solar system took 2 1/2 hours. I don’t know how much Ivanpah had cost, but as a matter of fact, fossil energy (gas) is actually required to run it. How is that the future?
Let’s face it: this desert habitat was destroyed and thousands of birds die every year because our “public” (investor owned monopoly!) utility companies fear rooftop solar, instead of utilizing it*. They rather destroy the desert and kill innocent animals than losing their business to rooftop solar.
Ivanpah is bullshit. Utility scale solar power plants are bullshit. We don’t need them, it has to stop. My advice: get rooftop solar as soon as possible. With the 30% tax break in California, it’s a highly attractive investment that adds to the value of your house. It depends a lot on your individual energy use of course, but you may break even after just 5 or 6 years.
*) I don’t understand why utility companies are such fools, and don’t get into rooftop solar themselves. Home owners could “rent out” their rooftops to utility companies – in exchange for free energy. Utility companies in return could put the maximum number of panels on each rooftop to harness the sun’s power, and not just the amount that is adequate to satisfy the average energy consumption of the home.