Vail Daily’s view: Smaller is better with solar energy
January 1, 2009
The country’s largest solar energy power plant ” near Alamosa in the San Luis Valley ” is finishing up its first year of creating electricity from the sun.
SunEdison, the company that built the plant, recently trumpeted the fact that the 80 acres of solar collectors produced enough electricity to power more than 1,600 homes.
That’s good, in a way. But 80 acres is a lot of space to generate a relatively small amount of electricity.
Bill Sepmeier, chief technical officer of Grid Feeders, a solar energy company in Eagle-Vail, e-mailed a comment that, to paraphrase, was mixed praise.
Sepmeier wrote that if the land was unproductive for anything else, solar panels might be the best use for it. Otherwise, he wrote, it’s a pretty inefficient system.
Our suspicion is that despite advances in technology, it’s probably going to be hard to get large-scale power from solar energy plants. That large-scale production might be better left to old technology, including nuclear energy (France and Japan, among others, create a huge part of their electricity by splitting atoms).
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The way the technology looks today, solar advocates might be better off advocating a rooftop-by-rooftop conversion. A modern photovoltaic system of fairly modest size can provide most of a home’s electric needs. Similarly, an array of panels atop big commercial buildings could provide home-grown power when our economy starts growing again.
Colorado utilities face a legislative deadline of 2020 to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. That mandate is going to require large solar and wind facilities across out vast state.
But it might be time to re-think that mandate. If we could get less power, but help more homeowners improve the value of their houses, we’d take that trade-off.