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American Companies Look to Solar Energy for Power Generation

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2013 at 4:38 pm by Solar Energy USA
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warren-buffet-money-american-solar-investmentQuestion: What does it mean when America’s most savvy business leaders invest billions of dollars into solar energy systems?

Answer: American jobs, American energy independence, financial savings, and lots and lots of solar power.

Last week MidAmerican Energy Holdings, a division of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, announced it had acquired the Antelope Valley Solar Projects, a massive solar development with a total capacity of 579MW (megawatts). News reporters estimate the solar acquisition from solar panel manufacturer SunPower had a price tag of around $2 billion dollars.

The Antelope Valley Solar Projects will provide reliable, clean solar energy to Southern California Edison, one of California’s largest utilities, under an initiative that SunPower developed over the last four years. Set to begin in the first quarter of 2013, the projects will use photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on some 3,230-acres of land with completion date estimated to be around the end of 2015.

To put this massive solar project into perspective for a person unfamiliar with technical solar jargon, consider that recent Solar Energy USA installations use 250 watt or 255 watt solar panels.  1,000 watts is equal to 1 kilowatt (1kW), which could be made up of 4 250 watt panels. 1 megawatt (1MW) is the same as 1,000 kilowatts (1,000kW) or 4,000 250 watt solar panels.

The Antelope Valley Solar Projects that Warren Buffet’s company just acquired is 579 megawatts (579MW) in capacity, or approximately 2,316,000 250 watt solar panels. That’s over 2 million solar panels (yeah, it’s massive)!

SunPower noted that the two projects involved in the deal will together form “the largest permitted solar photovoltaic power development in the world,” creating 650 jobs during construction.

Buffet’s recent solar project acquisition is certainly impressive, but his company is not alone in choosing to invest in large renewable energy projects. Google closed a $200 million dollar investment in late December 2012 for a 161-megawatt wind farm project near Amarillo, Texas. The internet search company has now enabled more than two gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy to come online.

Google created the infographic below to give some perspective on what can be powered with 2GW worth of clean energy generation:

google-2gw-renewable-energy-investment-graphic

According to a recent Google blog post, the search company looks for clean energy projects like the Spinning Spur wind power development “because, in addition to creating more renewable energy and strengthening the local economy, they also make for smart investments: they offer attractive returns relative to the risks and allow us to invest in a broad range of assets. We’re also proud to be the first investor in an EDF Renewable Energy project that is not a financial institution, as we believe that corporations can be an important new source of capital for the renewable energy sector.”

Companies across the country have made enormous investments in solar to manage their operating costs. The list below  ranks the top 20 of these companies by the installed capacity, or the maximum power potential measured in kilowatts of all of their on‐site solar installations:

top-american-companies-by-installed-solar-power-capacity

The rankings below show the Top 20 companies by the number of solar installations at company locations:

top-american-companies-by-number-ofs-solar-ystems-installed

You can also view this cool interactive map which shows what U.S. companies have on-site solar power generation.

A recent Solar Energy Industries Association report outlined just how many jobs the solar energy sector supports, stating that the solar industry now employs 119,016 Americans across all 50 states, having grown 13.2 percent over last year during difficult economic times across the nation. In 2011, the solar energy industry employed 105,145 workers, while 93,502 were employed by solar companies in 2010.

The big picture takeaway from these recent commercial investments in renewable energy technologies like solar is that we can expect solar to become more and more prevalent and more affordable for residential end-users thanks to economies of scale that result from massive commercial adoption.

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