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Two Plants Almost Double Current US Grid-Connected PV Capacity

Optisolar PV technology.
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Aug 18, 2008
The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) applauds Pacific Gas and Electric (PG and E), a California investor-owned utility, for the groundbreaking 800 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic announcement.

With 473MW of grid-connected photovoltaics installed throughout the entirety of the U.S. as of the end of 2007, this announcement by a single electric utility to develop almost double that amount is a strong signal of the growing role of solar electricity in the nation's future energy mix.

PG and E's plans include a 550MW PV plant with Optisolar and a 250MW project with SunPower, both to be constructed in phases between 2010 and 2013. "PG and E's announcement represents the largest single photovoltaic commitment from an electric utility anywhere in the world," stated Julia Hamm, SEPA executive director.

"It represents the pinnacle in a series of large and innovative U.S. electric utility solar projects that have been announced in the last six months."

When completed, the two projects will deliver 1.65 billion kilowatt-hours of solar electricity per year, enough energy to serve about 239,000 homes. The SunPower's plant will include single-axis tracking, which automatically orientates the solar panels toward the sun as it moves across the sky during the day, while Optisolar's panels will be fixed in one direction to the south.

"These two solar project configurations represent competing technology advancements we have seen in the photovoltaic industry recently," according to Mike Taylor, SEPA director of research.

"Each is aiming for the lowest cost per kilowatt-hour but have diverging techniques for getting there. Optisolar's thin film technology is lower efficiency, but the panels and installation configuration are designed to minimize costs. SunPower's technology is the highest commercial efficiency in the industry which commands a premium price, but with the tracking technology, they are aiming to produce more kilowatt-hours per solar panel."

According to PG and E, both projects are contingent upon the extension of the federal investment tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of 2008, and processes to expedite transmission for delivering the central station solar power. The tax credit extension has been mired in Congressional energy debates since 2007, falling victim to the complexities of the competing parties' energy policies.

PG and E was recognized earlier this month by SEPA for ranking second in the country for the total amount of solar energy integrated into their electric system and ranking first for solar electricity generated by systems on their customers' facilities.

"PG and E's solar portfolio has continued to grow year after year," stated Julia Hamm.

"They continually raise the bar for other utilities, and send a clear message that solar electricity is an option to be taken seriously by all those in the energy business." In 2007, PG and E was the recipient of the SEPA Business Achievement Award for Solar Portfolio Leadership.

related report
PG And E Signs Historic 800 MW Photovoltaic Solar Power Agreements With OptiSolar and SunPower
Pacific Gas and Electric Company has announced it has entered into two utility-scale, photovoltaic (PV) solar power contracts for a total of 800 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy.

This significant commitment to photovoltaic technology will deliver cumulatively 1.65 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy annually. This would be equivalent to the amount of energy needed to serve approximately 239,000 residential homes each year.

PG and E entered into an agreement with Topaz Solar Farms, a subsidiary of OptiSolar, for 550 MW of thin-film PV solar power. The utility also signed a contract with High Plains Ranch II, LLC, a subsidiary of SunPower, for 250 MW of high-efficiency PV solar power.

"These landmark agreements signal the arrival of utility-scale PV solar power that may be cost-competitive with solar thermal and wind energy," said Jack Keenan, chief operating officer and senior vice president for PG and E. "We will continue to explore such innovative technologies as we aggressively work to increase the amount of renewable energy we provide our customers."

Utility-scale PV solar projects feature photovoltaic solar modules, which convert sunlight directly into electricity and produce the greatest amounts of power during the afternoons, when electricity demand is high. Both projects are contingent upon the extension of the federal investment tax credit for renewable energy and processes to expedite transmission needs.

Over the past six years, PG and E has entered into contracts for more than 3,600 MW of renewable power, including solar contracts that total more than 2,500 MW. PG and E now has contractual commitments for more than 24 percent of its future power deliveries from renewables, including wind, biomass and geothermal.

OptiSolar's Topaz Solar Farm
The 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm project would utilize relatively low-cost, thin-film PV panels designed and manufactured by OptiSolar in Hayward and Sacramento. Located in San Luis Obispo County, California, the project would deliver approximately 1,100,000 megawatt-hours annually of renewable electricity. The project is expected to begin power delivery in 2011 and be fully operational by 2013.

"We are very happy to be working with PG and E to help meet California's requirements for clean, renewable energy and are committed to working closely with the local community as this project moves forward," said Randy Goldstein, chief executive officer of OptiSolar.

"Our solar farms are quiet and emission-free, with solar panels mounted near ground level to minimize visual impact. Implementing cost-competitive solar power on this scale establishes thin-film photovoltaic generation as an important contributor to global sustainability."

SunPower's California Valley Solar Ranch
SunPower's planned 250 MW solar ranch, would be located in San Luis Obispo County's California Valley and will deliver an average of 550,000 megawatt-hours of clean electricity annually. The project is expected to begin power delivery in 2010 and be fully operational in 2012. The ranch would employ SunPower's proprietary crystalline PV solar cells, which generate up to 50 percent more power than conventional crystalline cells.

The company would install its patented SunPower Tracker solar tracking systems at the site, which tilt toward the sun as it moves across the sky, increasing energy capture by up to 30 percent over fixed systems, while reducing land-use requirements.

"Today, high-efficiency photovoltaic technology is a competitively-priced component of utility-scale peak power generation," said Tom Werner, chief executive officer of SunPower.

"Our experience constructing more than 350 megawatts of solar systems on three continents allows us to deliver utility-scale systems quickly and at a scale of hundreds of kilowatts to hundreds of megawatts. We design our solar systems to maximize energy harvest while adapting to the natural topography of the site and serving the needs of the community."

Related Links
Pacific Gas and Electric
Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA)
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Swiss companies to build world's highest solar power station
Geneva (AFP) Aug 15, 2008
Swiss companies are planning to build the world's highest solar power station in the country's southern Alpine region, one of the project developers, electricity group BKW FMB, said on Friday.

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