In the Desert
Content including photographs are Copyright © 2018 - Present - Don & Linda Gilmore
Just in Southwestern Utah there are 22 solar farms, so we have a good idea of how this effects our part of the Southwest. It Doesn't! And this is good news. We'd really like to see this concept grow. And we want a resolution for the old panels as they wear out.
Ivanpah Solar "Plant"
This map of the West shows the solar plants and solar farms that are in progress or are already in operation in the desert Southwest. There are quite a few in our area and we'll look into them in more detail below. Why should you care about this? Well from what we've seen so far they are in locations that don't effect our travels in the desert, not a one has caused any road or trail closures. They do get a 30+% subsidy from the government (our tax dollars), but so do the coal and petroleum fired power plants. They are good for the environment (at least for now, more on this below). They are greatly lowering our carbon footprint and it is good clean energy. We like the photovoltaic panels as a way of suppling us with electricity!
This is not a photovoltaic solar farm that uses solar panels. It reflectes sunlight to a boiler at the top of the tower to heat the water to create steam to power an electical generator. But this not all of the story.
This array of solar panels is 1 mile long on this one side. It stretches out on both sides of the road. It produces 80 Mega Watts of power and is one of the many solar farms jointly owned by Google with Scatec as a partner. When it was in the planning stages it was estimated to cost 500 million dollars to construct, but because of lowering cost (by 60%) it only costs 188 million dollars, less than half the cost and the output was greatly increased over the older panels. It is now dwarfed by the 3 Peaks Solar Farm 12 miles to the west. These farms don't interfere with anything and they produce a lot of electricity that is used by Rocky Mountain Power.
This is a complex nightmare that has to individually direct each mirror to put the beam of sunlight into the top of the tower. And to make things worst they use a tremendous amount of natural gas to preheat the boiler in the morning hours to get the plant at working temperatures. This negates the cost savings! It has been blamed for killing birds? But is this really true? No exact studies have been done to prove this. Hopefully this type of solar will end soon! Now let's look at a better way to generate electricity.
Photovoltaic Solar Panel Farms
Some people were concerned that this use of such large areas of relatively flat ground would affect farmers in some areas. Not here! And the sheep are beneficial as they keep the grass and weeds under control. But there are other things that might be a problem?
The white arrow denotes a whole row of panels that can no longer track the sun from East to West. Not a software or hardware problem, no, it's a rodent problem. They have eaten into the buried wiring that controls the movement of the panels. It's always nice to solve the problem after it's too late, but in the future I'd bet they'll use conduit to enclose all the wiring!
The heat island effect? We question this as it's still not clear by studies done that this effects surrounding areas. In close adjacent areas there is no effect. See the larger image. In it you'll notice that the solar panels show the heat waves but the background brush is not showing it's effect. This tells me that it is very localized, We checked the temp. up close and down in the surrounding area - no difference!
Lightning was considered, see the lightning rods on the power station here at Granite Mountain East substation. They can even do soil tests to see how much the lightning will travel through different soils!
And lastly the problem of the future. In 15 to 25 years these panels will have to be replaced! Hundreds of thousands of them! Can you imagine what a landfill would look like? They really need to find a way to reuse or at least salvage the tellurium, indium, gallium, germanium and silver, zinc and copper that is used in making them. Maybe by then they'll have figured out how to solve this problem. Storage battery, cost=$5,500, how long do they last?