World’s largest solar energy plant destined for Arizona

21 Jan 2011

A 290MW solar photovoltaic facility under construction in Arizona has been given an offer of a $US967m loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy to help its progress in the clean solar-energy space.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu yesterday made the announcement of the conditional offer of the loan guarantee for the facility, which the project’s sponsor, the New Jersey-based NRG Solar, predicts will be the largest photovoltaic generation facility in the world when it is completed.

Known as the Agua Caliente Solar Project, the solar plant will be in Yuma County, Arizona, on 2,400 acres of farmland on the former White Wing Ranch. Work began in 2010 on the project, which is expected to be completed in 2014.

The project will use thin film solar panels from First Solar. Coincidentally, First Solar originally owned the project, which was bought over by NRG in December. 

“Solar projects like this are helping the US to compete globally for the clean energy jobs of today and the future,” said Chu yesterday.  “The Obama administration is committed to bringing innovative renewable energy technologies to the market to support the country’s transition to a clean-energy economy.”

Pacific Gas & Electric Company – 25-year agreement

According to NRG estimates, the project will create 400 construction jobs in addition to generating state and local tax revenues. It anticipates the project will avoid about 237,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to taking more than 40,000 cars off the road annually. Pacific Gas & Electric Company has entered into a 25-year contract with NRG Solar to purchase power generated from the project to deliver clean, renewable electricity to California consumers. 

Solar and grid demand

“The public private partnership between NRG Solar, First Solar and the Department of Energy will be instrumental in adding an unprecedented amount of emission-free solar power to America’s energy portfolio,” said Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar in a statement.

“Together, we will create hundreds of jobs and reduce the nation’s fossil-fuel dependence and carbon intensity. Since clean solar generation availability tends to align with the periods of highest electricity demand, projects like Agua Caliente add natural peaking capacity to the grid.”

New solar technologies

The Agua Caliente Solar project will also deploy fault ride-through and dynamic voltage regulation, technologies that are new to solar power plants in the US. NRG says these technologies will improve the reliability and predictability of the electricity generated by solar power plants and supplied to the electricity grid. 

The Department of Energy in the US has issued loan guarantees or offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling more than US$17bn to support 17 clean-energy projects. It says that, combined, these projects will produce more than 37m megawatt-hours, enough clean energy to power about 3.5m homes. 

Additional DOE-supported projects include two of the world’s largest solar thermal projects and the world’s largest wind farm.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic