The 20 or so people who populate Nipton, California are about to find themselves in the energy fishbowl thanks to their unique status of getting 85% of their electrical needs from solar power. Located on the border of the Mojave National Preserve, this small town will receive more than usual attention when the Skyline Solar HGS1000 High Gain Solar Array goes online later this year giving Nipton the distinction of generating more of its own renewable energy (on a percentage basis) than any other city or town in America.
So why is this important? Simply put, we have to start somewhere to demonstrate the feasibility of utility scale renewable energy generation. Nipton is going “all-in” on this bet with 85% of their energy needs coming from the single-axis tracking solar arrays. Maybe it’s a safe bet, being they’re in the desert, but this is a bold move ahead regardless.
There is no single energy technology that is the solution. Lake Erie will soon see five, 4-megawatt wind turbines installed in the first inland offshore wind farm in the US. This is the right place and right time to put a wind installation that is 250 times larger than the Nipton solar facility, but Lake Erie has prevailing winds favorable to this renewable source and would be a poor choice for solar. While neither will provide the overall base load of electricity like coal, natural gas, or nuclear, there is a place for all of these and we need to encourage legislation and discussion on these topics to lower our dependence on non-renewable sources like oil.
America needs more Niptons.
Kevin Arnold, P.E.