Video: How Solar-Farm Development Stalled for More Than a Decade

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During the Reagan Administration, that is to say, more than 25 years ago, a company called Luz International built a complex of solar thermal power plants out in the Mojave Desert. After the company was hit by a series of legislative handicaps and tax-related problems, Luz went out of business in the early 1990s. They'd managed to vastly reduce the cost of solar thermal electricity and were responsible for the vast majority of the world's solar capacity.

About a decade later in the early 2000s, Luz reformed and reassumed its position as a global leader in solar under the name BrightSource. The company is now building a new massive solar farm near Ivanpah, California.

But in the intervening years, which saw an increasing acceptance of climate science, very little happened in solar thermal research. Large-scale solar power plant developers lost a decade in their race to compete with fossil fuels. In this video, I tell the condensed story of Luz, which I cover more extensively in my book, Powering the Dream.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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