This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

July 23, 2008

Large-Scale U.S. Solar Power Facilities Becoming Commonplace

Photo of a long row of curved mirrors connected together to form a trough shape. Supports extending from the center of the mirrors hold a glass tube that glows from the concentrated sunlight.

Parabolic trough technology uses curved mirrors to concentrate the sun's heat. See a larger version of this photo.
Credit: Warren Gretz, NREL

A spate of announced plans to build large solar power facilities throughout the United States seems to indicate that relatively large-scale systems are becoming commonplace. The trend is most apparent in concentrating solar power (CSP), with a number of facilities in the planning stages with capacities greater than 100 megawatts (MW). One recent example is a plan to build a 106.8-MW CSP plant near Coalinga, California, about 60 miles southwest of Fresno. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) signed a power purchase contract for the facility with a subsidiary of Martifer Renewables Electricity LLC in June. Slated to start operation in 2011, the facility will produce power from biomass fuels when the sun is not available, allowing for constant power production. In addition, the four largest utilities in New Mexico, including PNM, issued a request for proposals (RFP) in late June to build a CSP plant in the state on the scale of about 100 MW. Bids are due by September 26, and a contract should be issued by January 2009, with the goal of commercial operation by 2012. Both the California and New Mexico facilities will use parabolic trough-shaped mirrors to concentrate the sun's heat. See the PG&E press release and the PNM press release and RFP.

Meanwhile, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is moving ahead with its plans to deploy solar power in the Sunshine State. The utility plans to build a 75-MW CSP facility at the site of its gas-fired Martin Plant in Indiantown, just east of Lake Okeechobee. The solar thermal facility will help to reduce natural gas consumption at the power plant. But FPL is also making an impressive commitment to solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, with plans to install 25 MW of solar panels at a site in DeSoto County, east of Sarasota. Construction will begin by the end of this year on what will be the world's largest PV power facility (although larger projects are now planned for Europe). FPL will also install a 10-MW PV project at the Kennedy Space Center. The three projects were approved by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) on July 15. See the FPL press release, the FPL Web page on the Martin Plant, and the Florida PSC press release.

For PV systems, even a 1-MW facility is quite large, and megawatt-scale systems are now planned for many parts of the country. In late April, for instance, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced that a megawatt-scale PV system will be installed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Pennsylvania. In late May, Duke Energy Carolinas announced plans to buy all the power from a 16-MW PV facility, to be built north of Charlotte, North Carolina. SunEdison LLC is building the facility and expects to have it running by 2010. In mid-June, Pepco Energy Services was awarded a contract to install a 2.36-MW PV system on the roof of the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey, with the installation to be completed by the end of the year, and in late June, enXco agreed to install a 1.3-MW system and a 0.5-MW system on two warehouses in South Plainfield, New Jersey, under a contract with Hall's Warehouse Corporation. But California has always been a leader in solar power, and on July 16 First Solar, Inc. announced that it will install a 2-MW PV system on the roof of a commercial building in Fontana, California, and at least 7.5 MW of ground-mounted PV panels in Blythe, California, with the power from both systems to be sold to Southern California Edison (SCE). See the press releases from Mayor Nutter, Duke Energy, Pepco Energy Services, enXco, and First Solar.