Big Solar Gets Grid Boost From Sky Imaging Device

Despite leading the U.S. in photovoltaic capacity, California’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard has the sunny state reaching across its borders to bring in power from the country’s largest solar installation, in Nevada.

But the Copper Mountain Solar 1 plant in Boulder City, Nev., has something to offer beyond its 48 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity. The plant, which is set to grow by an 92 MW by next year and another 58 MW by 2015, has just been fitted with solar forecasting devices called sky imagers that can—with the help of sophisticated algorithms—observe the sky and predict its power output every 15 minutes.

copper mountain solar

image via the White House

Late last month President Obama visited the plant, bringing it national attention as a model for future large-scale renewable energy development. During a time of economic uncertainty and when Republican presidential candidates bashing his green policies, the president focused his words on the economic opportunities of utility-scale renewable energy projects that can create domestic jobs and reduce harmful emissions.

“One member of Congress who shall remain unnamed called these jobs ‘phony’—called them phony jobs. I mean, think about that mindset, that attitude that says because something is new, it must not be real. If these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they’d be charter members of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama told the crowd gathered in Boulder City.

The president noted that the town was optimal for solar energy: flat, sunny and rich in power lines that can carry the electricity to California homes. For California’s San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), which is buying the power under a 20-year power purchase agreeement, the sky imager devices may be a critical step in easing incorporation of variable solar power.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.