Picture above by Hp.Baumeler of the Khi Solar One plant near Upington.
Most people would like to know how we will use solar energy panels and become less reliant on fossil fuels through the use of solar energy power in our homes. This would mean that every house would have its own array of photovoltaic panels and be individually energy independent. An electrical grid would allow people to sell any energy their home produced beyond what they need so that others could use it, but for the most part, each unit would function autonomously. Skeptics are quick to point out that this approach suffers from being too costly, if only because power plants operate on economies of scale that allow them to generate electricity at a lower average cost. Fortunately, there is the possibility that a solar electricity company could step in to deal with this problem.
The obvious benefit of a solar power electricity company over individual homes building their own is that it should cost less overall. One company that centralizes a multitude of solar energy panels in arrays that can do the entire thing for a lower average cost per watt than individuals can and there are a number of reasons for this. One of the main factors is that they can build these plants in places that have above average amounts of direct sun so that the plants maximize solar cell utilization. And this lower cost also reflects higher efficiency, which is important for a project that aims to protect the environment. Better efficiency means lower consumption and less waste. For the individual consumer, this means both nearly no upfront cost and a better electricity price.
Types of Solar Power Plants
A few different types of solar power plants have been built. One power plant near Groblershoop (Bokpoort) in the Northern Cape has a gross capacity of 55 megawatts (MW). This plant also has a thermal molten salt storage capacity of 1,300 MWh - this is equivalent to about 9.5 hours of full load generation. There is a fair sized list of solar generating plants, in operation and planned in South Africa - you can read more here: List of power stations in South Africa
Pros vs Cons
The drawbacks to this approach are significant, however. The biggest is that for people who want to convert to solar energy now, waiting the years necessary to design and build these large plants is not an option. Another is that it combines all the risk on one entity. If a better technology is developed while the plant is in construction, they either have to go ahead with a less efficient option or scrap the plants, accept the financial losses, and deal with having wasted those resources. However, if homes adopt solar panels at their own pace, solar conversion risk is spread out and averaged, which makes it a more financially reasonable strategy for conservation.
Solar energy panels lend themselves to a number of different alternative energy approaches. Solar power plants would be less costly to consumers due to a number of advantages. But that comes at a cost for those who are already prepared to make the conversion now.