Colorado Solar Power

Brendon Austin
December 5, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015


Fig. 1: President Barack Obama wth Vice President Joe Biden speaks with CEO of Namaste Solar Electric, Inc., Blake Jones, while looking at solar panels at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Solar power is the energy that comes from the sun and is converted into electricity. The energy that comes from it is extremely powerful and it continuously hits the earth regardless of whether or not we decide to take advantage of it. The largest concern is learning and applying the right techniques to collect this energy efficiently. Today, there are many different forms of technology that are used to harness this energy, however, the conversion from sunlight to electricity is most commonly accomplished in one of two methods: The direct use of photovoltaics (PV), or the indirect use of concentrated solar power (CSP).

The direct use of PV is one method for converting solar energy into direct current electricity through the use of semiconducting materials. For instance, a photovoltaic system employs solar panels, which are composed of solar cells to supply the usable solar power. [1] PV systems can be used nearly anywhere as long as they have a clear view of the sky.

The second method for converting solar energy into electricity is the use of CSP. This system generates solar power by using mirrors to concentrate a large body of sunlight onto a small area. The electricity is generated when the concentrated light is converted to heat, which then drives a heat engine. This heat engine - or steam turbine - is connected to an electrical power generator, which fuels a thermochemical reaction. [1]

Colorado's High Potential

Naturally, finding an appropriate location to harness the energy from the sun is extremely challenging. Some factors that are of main concern include, but are not limited to: time a given location experiences sunlight, geographic variation, and weather conditions. Interestingly enough, the state of Colorado shines in all of these categories. With its high elevation, amount of unused landmass and about 300 days of sunshine a year, Colorado immediately becomes a location with a very high potential for harnessing solar power. President Barack Obama has even taken notice that the solar power potential in Colorado is very real as shown in Fig. 1.

Colorado's Impact

Over the past decade, the implementation of solar power has become increasingly popular in the United States. Specifically, the state of Colorado has risen to be one of the nation's leaders in harnessing this incredible source of energy. Currently, there are more than 388 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in Colorado, which employ roughly 4,200 people. [2]

Another major step for solar power was taken in the year 2014, when $212 million was invested in solar installations throughout the state of Colorado. With that investment, the state has installed 430 MW of solar energy, which ranks the state ninth in the country for installed solar capacity. Right now there is enough solar energy installed in the state to power 82,000 homes. [2]

Finally, major investments in solar energy have continued to pile up due to the falling prices of residential and commercial PV systems. Although, the cost of solar power was initially quite expensive, the tides have seemed to turn. In the past year, the price for PV systems has fallen by nearly 24%. National prices have also dropped steadily by 6% from last year and 53% from 2010. [2] These numbers only enhance the amount of potential opportunities in Colorado for solar power.


In closing, the state of Colorado is a nearly perfect location to continue investing in solar energy. Its supreme location in the Rocky Mountains, the numerous days of sunshine, and the constantly dropping prices for PV systems create an unbelievable opportunity. Colorado could not only be one of the leaders in the United States for solar power, but it could be the best if the time, money and effort are invested.

© Brendon Austin. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Mendelsohn, T. Lowder, and B. Canavan, "Utility-Scale Concentrating Solar Power and Photovoltaics Projects: A Technology and Market Overview," U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-6A20-51137, April 2012.

[2] "Solar Spotlight: Colorado," Solar Energy Industries Association, 8 Sep 15.