The 7 Biggest Solar Projects Under Construction Right Now

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Despite all the talk of Solyndra and Chinese solar companies dumping their products onto the US market, the development of projects in the US continues apace. Driven by falling costs for photovoltaics and California's Renewable Portfolio Standard, many utility-scale projects are in the works in the southwest United States. These seven mega projects were culled from Solar Energy Industries Association research on all the major projects completed, under construction, or under development in this country.

Looking over that list, there are two large questions outstanding.

1) Will concentrated solar power projects, which work like normal power plants but substitute solar heat for fossil fuels to generate steam, remain competitive with PV projects? CSP projects will be able to accommodate energy storage easier than PV, but PV costs are falling faster. Keep an eye on that going forward.

2) Will utility-scale projects out in the desert make sense, generally, going forward? Right now, all kinds of models are springing forth for getting solar onto the roofs of individual homes and businesses. While the cost to install the solar panels is lower out in the desert and the solar resource is better, the plants have to compete at wholesale prices. Solar panels on roofs are competing with the retail price of electricity, which is considerably higher.

What's certain is that all of these kinds of projects have powerful backers and so in the near-term, we're likely to see many different experiments trying to find what works best.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called 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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