Crucial to the wider adoption of solar power and other renewable-energy technologies is an improvement in the nation's electric infrastructure - and it looks like progress is being made.
On December 9, construction of California's Sunrise Powerlink transmission line kicked off. The network - which has a price tag of $1.9 billion - will connect solar-power plants in remote eastern California with population centers on the Pacific coast.
The project is expected to be finished by 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported; once it's done, it will run from San Diego to thinly settled Imperial County. The line will be able to carry 1,000 megawatts of power - so the Sunrise Powerlink will be able to carry a significant amount of clean energy to the San Diego area.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that increasing transmission capacity will make large-scale renewable energy installations more viable. "You could have all the renewable energy in the world," the Times quoted him as saying at the Sunrise Powerlink's unveiling. "But if you don't have the transmission lines, you have nothing."
Other improvements are being planned for North America's transmission infrastructure. Google, for example, expects to invest $5 billion in an underwater transmission network off the East Coast. It will send to land power generated offshore by wind turbines.
Transmission capacity isn't the only thing needed for clean energy to come into wider use, though. Also critical is energy-storage technology, as renewable-power sources like wind and solar can produce electricity intermittently. Wind turbines only do so when the wind is blowing, while solar photovoltaic arrays don't work once the sun has set.
Some small-scale energy-storage systems are already in place around the country - but for clean power to truly become viable on a broad scale, energy-storage technology will have to be scaled up.
It's with that idea in mind that United Arab Emirates-based energy company Rubenius is building a 1,000-megawatt energy-storage system in the Mexican state of Baja California. The facility, which will cost $4 billion to erect, will serve both the Mexican and American energy markets, Rubenius chairman Claus Rubenius told Bloomberg News.
The system will use sodium sulfide batteries to store power, he indicated.
An inadequate infrastructure is, perhaps, the largest obstacle to the success of solar and wind power. But technologies like the Sunrise Powerlink, Google's transmission project and Rubenius' battery system will help make clean energy a possibility.