Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Gerald Freeman walks through the small solar plant that provides 70 kilowatts of power to Nipton, the former ghost town he purchased in the 1980s.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

A truck lumbers down Nipton Road past some of the solar panels that provide 70 kilowatts of electricity, about 80% of the power required by Nipton's 60 residents, its general store and motel.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Gerald Freeman is reflected in the panels in the small solar plant in Nipton, a former ghost town. Collectively, modest-sized projects could provide an enormous electricity boost — and do so for less cost to consumers and less environmental damage to the desert areas where most are located, say advocates of small-scale solar power.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Gerald Freeman stands near his small solar power plant in Nipton. In the distance is a massive, $2.2-billion BrightSource Energy solar plant project. Such large-scale projects are financially efficient for developers, but their size creates transmission inefficiencies and higher costs for ratepayers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Ron Handley, a maintenance worker in Nipton, looks through the fence surrounding the small solar plant that provides the tiny town its electricity. The massive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which will be the largest solar-thermal power plant in the world when it is completed, is in the distance.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Nipton has 60 residents, a general store and a motel, and its own small-scale solar power plant.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Ron Handley walks through Nipton, which could eventually produce as much as 1 megawatt of power. Such small-scale plants can be built near population centers and provide power directly to consumers. Some question why there’s not more of a push for smaller plants.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Recent studies project that California could derive a substantial percentage of its energy needs from rooftop solar installations, whether on suburban homes or city roofs or atop big-box stores. Small solar plants like the one in Nipton could play a role as well.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Lights glow at the Nipton Trading Post thanks to the 70 kilowatts of power generated by the small solar plant in the tiny town. The Obama administration's solar-power initiative has fast-tracked large-scale plants, fueled by low-interest, government-guaranteed loans that cover up to 80% of construction costs. In all, the federal government has paid out more than $16 billion for renewable-energy projects. But small projects usually get little support.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Frankie Thomson plays his guitar with friends at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Nipton. He and his coworkers from a nearby mine live in the tiny desert town that is powered with a small solar plant.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Workers from a local mine and the massive nearby solar project relax in Nipton.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

The lights at Hotel Nipton, powered by the town's solar plant, twinkle in the evening.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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Small-scale solar power in Nipton, Calif.

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Small-scale solar power in Nipton, Calif.

Gerald Freeman unlocks the gate to the small power plant and goes inside. Three rows of solar collectors, elevated on troughs that track the sun’s arc like sunflowers, afford a glimpse of California’s possible energy future.

This facility and a smaller version across the road produce some about 80% of the power required by Nipton’s 60 residents, its general store and motel.

Freeman, a Caltech-trained geologist and one-time gold mine owner, understood when he bought this former ghost town near the Nevada border that being off the grid didn’t have to mean going without power.

2 Comments

  1. December 31, 2012, 7:32 am

    What kind of system? What is the cost per KW? Who designed it? Nice photographs but they don't tell much of the story either, just nice artsey pictures.

    By: c_keely@uyahoo.com
  2. May 17, 2013, 11:36 pm

    "but their [large] size creates transmission inefficiencies and higher costs for ratepayers"

    higher costs than not having power? this system if off-grid.

    transmission inefficiencies? to where? transmission loss is usually 10-15% because of miles and miles of copper wire and step-down transformers. produce power on-site and you dont have either…

    By: bcdelosangeles

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