Mojave Desert town to go almost fully solar

Nipton, Calif., is installing high-gain solar arrays from Skyline Solar--billed as a "rust belt to green belt" success story--to supply 85 percent of its power.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
2 min read
The Hotel Nipton in Nipton, Calif., will soon be powered almost exclusively by solar energy. Nipton.com

A small town on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert may soon get 85 percent of its power needs exclusively from solar energy.

The municipal solar power plant for Nipton, Calif., will be equipped with High Gain Solar arrays (HGS) from Skyline Solar, the company announced Thursday.

Skyline Solar's HGS arrays are designed to use less silicon to save manufacturing costs while still providing effective solar energy. To do that the company uses a reflective metal cradle made of sheet metal to concentrate sunlight onto monocrystalline silicon cells. The company claims that its concentrated solar arrays offers 10 times more energy per gram of silicon than traditional solar panels without high concentrator systems.

Nipton, which was founded in 1905 in large part due to railroad placement, sits right at the northern edge of the Mojave National Preserve and is about 45 miles south of Las Vegas, Nev. It's essentially a restored ghost town that offers visitors a general trading post, cafe, and hotel before entering the Mojave Desert preserve or driving on to Joshua Tree National Park. That is to say, this solar power plant will be supporting a tiny town with a population of under 1,000.

Nipton, Calif., offers EcoLodge cabins for tourists passing through or exploring the nearby Mojave National Preserve. Nipton.com

But the arrays will likely be better-known for who manufactures them than for who uses them.

Skyline Solar is the solar manufacturing start-up that has been held up as a "rust belt to green belt" success story and example of how green technology innovation could partner with existing skilled manufacturing employees in the U.S. to make money.

The company has received $3 million in federal stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and $24.6 million from New Enterprise Associates and other investors specifically to develop arrays that could dovetail with existing manufacturing labor and trim silicon manufacturing costs.

In October, Skyline struck a deal with an auto-parts manufacturer, Cosma International, that employs skilled sheet metal workers. Cosma's Troy, Mich., plant now supplies Skyline with the bent sheet metal used as reflectors. Skyline's racks and mounting brackets for its solar arrays are also provided by manufacturers that in the past normally supplied the auto industry.