Another Day, Another U.S. Solar Record: 5 Great Facts About the Desert Sunlight Project

February 11, 2015 | 4:04 pm
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Solar power is breaking records all the time. This week saw another one, with the dedication of a ginormous solar project in California. Here are 5 great facts about the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm to sprinkle into the conversation the next time you’re chatting at the bus stop or a cocktail party.

Five great facts

Sec. Jewell gets an up-close look. (Credit: U.S. Department of the Interior)

Sec. Jewell gets an up-close look. (Credit: U.S. Department of the Interior, via Flickr)

The Desert Sunlight project, located east of Palm Springs, actually started generating in December, but got dedicated earlier this week, with the help of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

And it’s a project that was worth the trip for her:

  1. It’s powerful. As solar goes, this is a big one: at 550 megawatts (MW), Desert Sunlight is the largest solar project on public lands, and expected to produce some 160,000 California homes’ worth of electricity.
  2. It’s definitely powerful. The project’s 550 MW total means that it’s also the largest solar project in the U.S., tied with one that went online in November.
  3. It’s photovoltaic. Unlike another recent solar recordbreaker, one that uses the sun to make electricity by producing steam, Desert Sunlight uses photovoltaic (PV) modules and directly converts light to electricity, same as the panels that can be put on your roof.
  4. It’s a whole lot o’ panels. The project involves more than 8 million solar panels across 3,600 acres.
  5. California is heading to 33% renewables, and beyond. Desert Sunlight will be feeding into the California electricity system, helping two of the state’s big utilities meet the California renewables portfolio standard of 33% by 2020. And the state is already talking about what 50% renewable energy might look like.

What’s next

Credit: U.S. Department of the Interior, via Flickr

Credit: U.S. Department of the Interior, via Flickr

California is working to balance our need for clean energy with our need to preserve our beautiful landscapes—in this case, as a colleague has said, to figure out how to make “smart and sustainable new investments in desert areas that have incredible generation potential.”

As our friends at the Wilderness Society have put it, projects like Desert Sunlight can and should help us figure out how to “[get] energy right in the California Desert,” and beyond.

As for what’s next: Desert Sunlight appears tied for largest solar plant in the world, not just the U.S… for the moment. But, in the über fast-paced world of solar growth, tomorrow may be another story. Stay tuned.

And in the meantime, spread the word at the bus stop: Another day, another solar record to celebrate.


About the author

More from John

John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.