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on Sunday, 29 January 2012. Posted in Solar Power

The sun is a utopian fuel: limitless, ubiquitous, and clean. Surely someday we'll give up on coal, oil, and gas—so hard on the climate, so unequally distributed worldwide—and go straight to the energy source that made fossil fuels. In a few sunny places where electric rates are high, like Italy and Hawaii, solar energy is already on the verge of being competitive. But in most places the sun remains by far the most expensive source of electric power—typically in the U.S. it costs several times more than natural gas or coal—which is why it still supplies only a fraction of a percent of our needs.

That won't change fast unless governments give solar a big boost. President Barack Obama campaigned with a pledge to institute a federal "renewable portfolio standard" requiring utilities to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewables by 2025. Yet even if Congress enacted that ambitious law, coal would still dominate the nation's electricity portfolio two decades from now, and solar energy would probably remain a minor contributor. Cap-and-trade legislation that sets a price on carbon emissions would not be a magic bullet for solar either. Both mandates would likely lead utilities to favor the cheapest renewables, like wind. Solar would make a sizable contribution only after 2025, once the expansion of wind energy had plateaued.

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on Sunday, 08 January 2012. Posted in Solar Power

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Early on a clear November morning in the Mojave Desert, the sun is barely touching the peaks of the McCullough Range with a cool pink glow. Behind them, a full moon is sinking over the gigawatt glare of Las Vegas. Nevada Solar One is sleeping. But the day's work is about to begin.

It is hard to imagine that a power plant could be so beautiful: 250 acres of gently curved mirrors lined up in long troughs like canals of light. Parked facing the ground overnight, they are starting to awaken—more than 182,000 of them—and follow the sun.

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