2014: The Year of Concentrating Solar Power
Aerial view of the Crescent Dunes 540 foot power tower in Tonopah, Nevada. Photo Credit: SolarReserve, LLC.
Across the nation, solar energy is taking off, with more Americans "going solar" every day. And, it's not just solar panels popping up on the rooftops of homes; Americans are starting to adopt other forms of solar energy, as well. Concentrating solar power (CSP) is a technology that harnesses the sun's energy potential and has the capacity to provide hundreds of thousands of customers in the United States with reliable renewable energy—even when the sun isn't shining. The United States is particularly well suited for CSP because it leverages the nation's abundant solar energy resources, particularly in the sun-drenched southwestern states. Every day, more energy falls on the United States—in the form of sunshine— than the country uses in an entire year.
The year 2014 marks a significant milestone in the history of American solar energy. Through sustained, long-term investments by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and committed industry partners, some of the most innovative CSP plants in the world connected to the United States electricity grid in 2013, and five plants of this kind are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2014. One of them is the largest CSP plant in the world; another represents a first-of-its-kind in energy storage technology at commercial scale in the United States. Collectively, these five CSP plants will nearly quadruple the preexisting capacity in the United States, creating a true CSP renaissance in America.
By many measures, the solar energy industry has been one of the fastest growing industries in the United States over the last five years. By the end of 2013, the United States had more than 13 gigawatts of installed solar capacity—nearly 15 times the amount installed in 2008 and enough to power more than 2 million average American homes.
DOE's SunShot Initiative—launched by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office in 2011 as a national effort to make solar energy fully cost competitive with traditional energy sources by 2020—has played a critical role in solar energy's recent success. The SunShot Initiative's investments support innovation in solar energy technologies that are aimed at improving efficiency and reducing the cost of materials, as well as making it easier, faster, and cheaper for homeowners, businesses, and state, local, and tribal governments to "go solar."
Technology innovation is not the only area where DOE is contributing to the growth of solar in America. Through its Loan Programs Office (LPO), DOE is helping to finance the first deployments of innovative solar technologies, such as CSP, at a large scale. Projects employing technologies that are successfully demonstrated at a small scale with minimal large-scale applications often face difficulty securing the necessary capital for the initial commercial deployments. By providing loan guarantees for commercial-scale projects using these newer technologies, DOE reduced the projects' financial risk enabling new private investment in the CSP market.
In addition to helping meet utility demand for clean energy, the five LPO-supported CSP plants have created thousands of construction and operations jobs. The growth of CSP has built a far-reaching domestic supply chain that reaches 39 states according to the projects' sponsors. That supply chain includes international corporations that have invested in a U.S. solar market presence, as well as decades-old U.S. manufacturers that have been revived by this thriving new industry. All told, the United States solar industry employs more than 143,000 Americans, which is a jump of nearly 50,000 since 2010.