One of the most desirable locations for building domestic solar facilities is in the Mojave Desert—25,000 square miles of sun-baked terrain spanning southeastern California, plus portions of Nevada, Arizona and Utah. It's no surprise that some of the world's most sophisticated solar plants are popping up there, showcasing the latest developments in the industry.
Read MoreBiggest risk to utility stocks: You going solar
One notable, completed project is called Ivanpah, a partnership between NRG and BrightSource, which broke ground about three years ago. The $2.2 billion project was able to get up and running thanks in part to $1.6 billion in government loans, plus Google's 20 percent investment.
Ivanpah showcases what the industry calls "solar thermal" technology. Simply put, it uses mirrors to heat water and create power through three towers, each 450 feet tall, or about 150 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. The plant sits on 3,600 acres—roughly four times the size of New York's Central Park—and it uses 347,000 mirrors to generate enough power to operate about 140,000 homes. By itself, it currently generates a little less than 30 percent of California's commercial solar energy.
Read MoreSolar: The future of energy?
While Ivanpah is renowned for power generation, it also is touted for its environmental accomplishments.
"From an environmental perspective, this is just a really great story," said Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar. "We're taking 400,000 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere by using this solar thermal technology in lieu of a conventional fossil fuel technology. So to put that in perspective, that's like taking 72,000 cars off the road."