By Michael Mariotte

Some specifications of Chile’s upcoming Copiapo 24/7 solar power plant.

As pointed out in the article itself, some environmentalists and clean energy advocates remain skeptical that a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system is attainable; and we’ve had a few strong and interesting responses to my recent post The archaic nature of baseload power–or why electricity will become like long-distance. Check out the comments to that piece and add your own.

In that article, I laid out the obsolete nature of the 20th century electricity system, which relied on large “baseload” nuclear and fossil fuel plants located far from the largest electricity consumers sending (and wasting) electricity over long high-voltage transmission lines. Such a system simply makes no sense anymore given the cheaper, cleaner, generally smaller-scale, and more sustainable energy technologies of the 21st century.

But there is a kind of “baseload” power that does make some sense. And that’s the kind that doesn’t involve nuclear or fossil fuels.

It can be argued, of course, that any system that provides electricity 24/7 is “baseload” power–and I would make that argument. Thus, a rooftop solar system with good battery backup is, by that definition, baseload power.

But what I neglected somewhat in the original piece was that renewables are increasingly capable of providing large-scale “baseload” power as well. Spain has a 24-7 baseload solar plant, for example, although it has not yet been a stunning economic success. And now Chile has just given the ok for a new 260 megawatt solar plant–using a combination of photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technology–that promises to provide 24/7 baseload power. For 10 cents kw/h. That’s cheaper than any new nuclear power and most existing nuclear power. With no government subsidies whatsoever.

Big is not always bad. California’s Ivanpah concentrating solar power plant.

Yes, the system is not perfect: it does still require those long transmission lines. And yes, you can’t build these things everywhere–although you could build an awful lot of them on essentially unused land in the southwest U.S.–think Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico–and provide an awful lot of power to a lot of places. It’s been estimated that you could power the entire U.S. on solar power built on 10,000 square miles of unused Nevada land. Of course, back in the late 1980s, the Department of Energy figured out you could power the entire country on wind power from South Dakota. And some in Europe have envisioned powering the entire continent with solar power located in the Saharan Desert.

Great in theory, perhaps not so perfect in practice.

Meanwhile, wind power is edging ever closer to “baseload” status. New technology, and the ability to build taller windmills with longer blades, already has brought wind to 50% capacity factors in the Midwest and west Texas, and the industry believes it will regularly be reaching 60-65% capacity factors in just a few years. At that level, wind’s capacity factor starts to be very competitive with fossil fuels. And right now, wind is averaging less than 3 …read more

Read more here::