The solar energy industry is showing signs of growth both in the United States and abroad. Large solar power plants in California, Florida, and Europe are making headlines and grabbing the attention of energy insiders and policy makers.
According to a report in GreenTech, the Solar Energy Industry Association is predicting that there are over 100 utility-scale projects in the planning stages-that represents a whopping 17,000 megawatts. The report gives some perspective on how large an increase that is:
In 2009 there was 58 megawatts of utility-scale solar deployed in the U.S. in 5 projects. The compelling news is that SEIA expects to see more than 200 megawatts of utility-scale solar from concentrated solar power (CSP) and photovoltaics (PV) coming online in 2010.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on the Martin Next Generation Solar Center in Indiantown, Florida. Upon its completion by the end of this year, this solar thermal plant will be one of the largest solar power stations in the world, covering an area of nearly 500 acres and generating about 75 megawatts of power.
The real novelty of the Martin Generating Station however is not in its size or design, but in its intended purpose. This solar thermal plant will be built next to the nation's largest natural gas power facility turning it into one of the world's largest hybrid power plants. According to the New York Times Report:
The project's advantages are obvious: electricity generated from the sun will allow [the power utility] to cut natural gas use and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It will provide extra power when it is most needed: when the summer sun is shining, Floridians are cranking up their air-conditioning and electricity demand is at its highest. . . [The utility] estimates it will cut its natural gas use by 1.3 billion cubic feet each year, the consumption of 18,000 American homes. It will also cut carbon emissions by 2.75 million tons over 30 years, the equivalent of taking 19,000 cars off the road.
Across the Atlantic, an Italian solar generating station is making headlines in the European energy markets. SunEdison, a solar power company based in Beltsville, Maryland, was recently granted approval to begin construction on a photovoltaic solar farm in Rovigo, Italy. With an expected generating capacity of 72 megawatts, the Rovigo power plant will be the largest photovoltaic farm in Europe. According to a report by Energy Boom, the plant will be operational in the second half of 2010 with final completion expected by year's end. The system will generate sufficient energy to power 17,150 homes in Northern Italy in its first full year of operation.
A third announcement, this one coming from First Solar Inc, notified industry analysts of plans for an even larger solar power plant in Riverside County, California. Partnering with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, First Solar proposed to add 300 megawatts of photovoltaic generating capacity to its Desert Sunlight project. This addition will help Pacific Gas and Electric meet California's state renewable energy standard which requires power utilities to purchase at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources. According to a report in Market Watch, the project will use First Solar's thin-film photovoltaic solar modules and is expected to begin generating electricity as early as 2013. The project will displace 300,000 metric tons of CO2 per year and create about 430 construction jobs.
While operating in different energy markets, the solar power projects in California, Italy, and Florida illustrate that solar technology is well-suited for may many regions of the world. The industry can help meet state renewable energy standards or augment large fossil fuel power plants with clean generating technology.