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Clean Power NRG MGM solar energy project

Published on October 7th, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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Solar Energy At Play: Vegas Strip, Houston Texans Go Solar

October 7th, 2014 by  


MGM Resorts has laid claim to one of the world’s largest rooftop solar installations, and when Vegas goes solar it’s a pretty good bet that solar energy has reached the mass market tipping point. Now that the Houston Texans have climbed on board it’s a done deal. The green-transitioning energy company NRG is behind both of those projects, as well as a kind of high tech wood chipper that produces carbon-negative biofuel, so now would be a good chance to catch up and see what they’re up to in terms of getting solar energy in your face.

NRG MGM solar energy project

NRG rooftop solar energy project (cropped) courtesy of NRG.

NRG And Solar Energy

While NRG is still heavily invested in coal and natural gas power plants, the company has been aggressively pursuing utility scale solar energy projects. It’s one of the developers behind the gigantic Agua Caliente and Ivanpah solar projects, both of which happen to be in the Department of Energy’s portfolio of showcase solar loan guarantees (more on that later).

Agua Caliente and Ivanpah have the advantage in size, but they’re way out in the desert. In terms of public profile NRG gets more clean cred mileage from some of its modestly scaled solar energy projects on buildings and sports facilities, and that’s where things start to get interesting.

 

When people are exposed to solar energy where they work and play, then it becomes part of the daily landscape whether or not they have any particular interest in alternative energy. The naysayers can continue to beat up on solar in the abstract, but that’s not going to have much of an impact on people who are becoming habituated to solar in their lives.

So to catch up, later this month NRG is celebrating the completion of a 6.2 MW solar array on the rooftop of MGM Resorts’ Mandalay Bay Resort Convention Center. Plans are already in the works to add another 2 MW for an expansion of the facility, which is currently under construction (update: the extra 2 MW hasn’t been confirmed yet, stay tuned).

NRG is also transforming the formerly named Reliant Stadium (home of the Houston Texans) into a showcase for its clean tech projects, under its new moniker NRG Park. How’s that for a shot across the bows for the fossil industry?

So far the plans call for solar energy in the form of NRG’s “Haven Solar Canopies” for a total of 700 solar panels, LED lighting, and NRG’s eVgo EV charging stations. NRG has recently hooked up eVgo in a free charging deal with Nissan LEAF, so look for that business to expand, too.

Other sports fans are being exposed to NRG clean tech include the 49ers (Levi Stadium), and that Washington, DC football team that will shortly be changing its name, we predict (FedEx Stadium).

About That Carbon-Negative Gasoline

Speaking of federal loan guarantees, NRG is also one of the folks (corporations are people, right?) behind Cool Planet, which just won a $91 million loan guarantee from the Department of Agriculture.

The loan is in support of Cool Planet’s first ever commercial scale plant, which will be located at the Port of Alexandria in Louisiana.

As with NRG’s solar energy operations, Cool Planet is already thinking big. The new facility isn’t even up and running yet and he/she (not sure what pronoun to use) already has visions of hundreds of others around the US.

The plant converts wood chips directly into gasoline and other bioproducts that are chemically identical to their fossil counterparts, along with a biochar byproduct called CoolTerra. According to Cool Planet, the process overall has the potential to capture more carbon than it generates, so that’s the carbon negativity.

Not for nothing but it appears our friends over at ExxonMobil are being left behind in the dust on this one. Aside from NRG, other legacy fossil energy companies backing Cool Planet are ConocoPhillips, Exelon’s Constellation division, and BP. Google, GE, and North Bridge Venture Partners have also thrown their hats in the ring.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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