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New IE solar power facility aims to be 'game-changer'

May 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
New technology added to a solar power facility in the desert is being called a "game-changer." The technology is designed to save money.

Just outside of Barstow in the town of Daggett is the world's first facility to harness the power of the sun for electricity. Two decades ago the Sunray Solar facility was considered a pioneer in renewable energy. Now a Huntington Beach company is hoping to launch the next generation in solar energy.

"We're using less product to generate more solar power," said Glenn Reynolds, Gossamer Space Frames co-founder and president.

More power, but on a huge scale. Gossamer Space Frames teamed up with 3M's renewable energy division to build the world's largest solar collector.

"This is a game-changer because we're able to decrease costs for these types of solar power installations dramatically," said Reynolds.

The cost savings come from using reflective film attached to aluminum panels which then concentrate the sun's energy on collector tubes. The technology does away with heavy glass and steel frames.

Another advantage of the technology is that the panels are lightweight, highly reflective, and unlike glass panels, they are practically unbreakable, further reducing the cost it takes to run a solar farm.

"This is different because you have these new designs of a lot of cost-lowering components and this is kind of where the renewable energies are really going to make a difference," said Dr. Oliver Hemmers, executive director, Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Hemmers says it will make solar energy competitive with other forms of energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, which independently evaluated the solar collectors, is hopeful it will reduce the need to subsidize solar technology in the future.

"We want renewable energy and solar energy to be cost-competitive, subsidy-free cost-competitive," said NREL engineer Allison Gray.

Last year critics declared the solar industry doomed after the failure of solar panel company Solyndra. The company filed for bankruptcy two years after it received millions in federal loan money.

Gossamer and 3M developed its project free of subsidies and only unveiled it six months after it proved operational.

"Really the plant experience tells you whether you have a solution that is ready for implementation or not," said Dan Chen, 3M Renewable Energy Division.

Now that it's ready, the hope is that solar technology has staying power.


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