Crimson Solar

A bit of good news near my home.

On Monday May 3rd, the U.S Department of the Interior approved a new solar project in southern California. It’ll occupy about 2000 acres in the desert near Blythe—a town near the border with Arizona, and the Colorado River.

It’s called the Crimson Solar Project. It’s a 350-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility that will cost about $550 million. They say it will be able to power about 87,500 homes.

The choice of site for this solar project is part of California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

The publication The Hill says this project will “store up to 530 megawatts of energy”—but I have no idea what that means, since megawatts isn’t a unit of energy.

11 Responses to Crimson Solar

  1. gregbenford says:

    GOOD! John, I’ll deliver some materials to UCR Eaton collection early next week. Would like to lunch with you and yours at a good outdoor restaurant etc–we’re all vacc’d I assume. Much to discuss!


  2. So it’s an investment of about $6,300 per home. It’s not that much considering home prices in California.

    • John Baez says:

      Good way to think of it!

      But also we see that this needs to be scaled up a lot, since the population of California is about 40 million, it’d need to be scaled up by a factor of about 450 to handle the whole state.

      (Just a back-of-the-envelope calculation: I’m not suggesting a single solar power plant 450 times as big in this location.)

  3. linasv says:

    For the last 10-15 years, solar and wind buildouts have consistently exceeded projections from the US Govt, from the UN and from various think tanks. Sorry, I don’t have any links handy, but if/when you find those old charts, it’s quite amazing. I think there are several reasons for this: (1) it’s very lucrative; there’s a lot of get-rich-quick entrepreneurs chomping at this, the way they were at it for petroleum and gas, not all that long ago. You don’t need that much skill, other than scouting out a good property and convincing a bank to loan you the money. (2) never underestimate what can happen when the popular imagination gets fired up. Many/most recent explosive trends of the last few decades were ones that experts strongly discounted, but Joe & Jane Average found instantly appealing.

    Slightly off-topic: ERCOT, the Texas electric utilities regulator, has received “grid interconnection requests” for 30 GW of batteries. This is a bit for formal paperwork that one must file, if you want to build some electric generating utility, and tie it to transmission lines. It does not mean that the particular projects will ever get built (they may never be funded) but it does indicate that someone is serious enough to begin filing the paperwork.

    What is surprising here is that this number is about 100x larger than the currently-installed battery capacity in Texas. Its about 1/3rd of the total demand in the state! My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that it might not even be possible to buy that many batteries — I think this is bumping into manufacturing and supply-chain constraints.

    The general burbling here is that the renewables revolution may happen a whole lot faster than anyone expects. This sort of stuff seems to have people really excited, and honestly, if I was just a tiny bit more excited about getting rich quick, installing some batteries somewhere really does sound like an easy way to do it.

    • John Baez says:


      The general burbling here is that the renewables revolution may happen a whole lot faster than anyone expects.

      I’ve been hearing that burbling for a while now, and I sure hope it’s true. I wonder when exactly we should expect what to happen.

  4. linasv says:

    John, you remark:

    this project will “store up to 530 megawatts of energy”—but I have no idea what that means, since megawatts isn’t a unit of energy.

    This is a confusing bit of jargon used throughout the industry. As far as I can tell, what it really means is that the project can instantaneously dump half-a-gigawatt onto the grid, and keep that up for an hour or two. The “hour or two” part is a side-effect of the energy markets: there is a new auction every five minutes, setting a new price for electricity for the next 5 minute block, and you can participate in that auction as you wish. It doesn’t make much sense to store less than half-an-hour of electricity — you’ll just deplete your batteries too fast, and not be able to partake in later auctions. Storing more than a few hours of electricity also doesn’t make sense: if there is some particularly juicy spike in prices, you want to be able to fulfill that demand and reap all the profits. Putting a big battery behind a thin pipe prevents you from doing that.

    That said, it is an optimization problem: balancing the cost of installing N megawatts of grid-tie vs installing M megawatts of storage, with N being mostly determined by how much solar you need to tie in, rather than battery.

    The problem here is that electricity prices can and do go negative at various parts of the day, and so when they do, you can either dump that electricity into the dirt, or you can charge a battery. As a general rule, the wind blows pretty well in the early evening, picking up the slack as solar tapers off, so if you can use a battery to shift the demand to middle of the night, when the wind is dying down and prices are going up, then you can $$$ profit.

    • John Baez says:

      Thanks for all that, Linas. Your interpretation of “store up to 530 megawatts of energy” makes a lot of sense, though of course I’ll never like expressions like that.

      Do you know anyone deeply involved in the problems of designing the “smart grid”?

  5. MarkR says:
    Section 1.1.1 of the environmental impact statement says “up to” 350 MW of solar with 350 MW/1400 MWh battery capacity.

    Seems a lot for $550 mil.

  6. Geoff Dunstan says:

    The batteries have a limited lifetime. Theiir replacement is expensive under current technology. Hopefully that will improve dramatically in a reasonable timeframe.

  7. westy31 says:

    I use a rough rule of the thumb: 1 Watt of installed power should cost about 1 euro, or dollar. This is “approximately” correct for power stations and generators or cars. So this installation is doing OK. I’ll ignore the fact that there is no sun at night, rough numbers only.
    As you remark, everyone is messing up energy units and power units. Not just in small talk, but in product specification documents or government policy documents.
    So how much should 1 kWh cost? (I could convert to Joule, but everyone pays per kWh). If you a assume a typical “life span” of say 10 years and continuous use, this is 1 or 2 cents. Of course, with fossil fuel you also have to pay for the fuel. So alternative energy is already competitive, except… for the storage.
    Suppose you use a storage device of 1 kWh every day for 10 years. Then it would compete with direct power at a cost of about 50-100 Euro or Dollar. The easiest storage is a battery, but they are typically 10 times more expensive. Hydro electric storage is better. Or upsize the world long distance grid, assuming there is always somewhere on the planet enough power.

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