Solar Energy Projects, Big, Bold, and Beautiful

What are Solar Energy Projects

Solar energy projects are not only exciting because they speak to us of the future, but also because the rows and rows of perfectly spaced panels of glittering sunshine are cool to look at. Something about the stillness and simplicity of a solar array inspires quiet awe. And all this is just about what they look like. What they actually do is even more captivating.

Types of Solar Energy Projects 

Solar energy projects include all projects using solar energy to collect heat from solar rays and draw electricity from it. There are two main types of solar projects. Concentrating solar power (CSP) refers to solar energy systems that “generate solar power by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight, or solar thermal energy, onto a small area” (Wikipedia).

CSP technology

Photovoltaic (PV) is the other type of solar energy system. A PV system converts sunlight directly into electricity using PV cells made of semiconductor materials. When you see a house with solar panels on the roof, you are looking at a PV solar installation.

New Solar Energy Capacity Estimates

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) new solar energy projects totaling 49 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) are currently in the construction or development stages.

Overall SEIA estimates that there are 6,000 major solar installations in operation in the US with 70 GW of capacity.

Click here to access an interactive solar projects map from energy.gov. This map shows all the ongoing solar projects in the US along with a description of the projects. Another resource for solar projects information is the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) which publishes the 2018 SETO Portfolio Book that provides even more detailed information about solar projects. Lastly, SEIA also has a similar map.

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Incidentally, SETO is responsible for the Sunshot Initiative which helps start community solar programs and facilitates the development and dissemination of solar energy technology to reduce the cost of solar energy.

Our last word on the proliferation of new solar energy? Even Kansas has a solar farm. Read on to learn where it is.

Notable, India v Australia

There is a good story about the biggest solar installation on Earth. The story is that bigger isn’t always better, and it isn’t always obvious which project is the bigger installation. Should we judge by generation capacity only? Should the number of solar panels matter? And how should we measure the importance of storage batteries? What if wind energy is occasionally added to the mix? Here are some current project highlights. We’ll let you decide.

In 2016, the solar facility in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu became the largest in the world. Its capacity of 648 MW with solar panels covering 10 square kilometers was big enough to unseat the former biggest solar installation in a single location, which had been the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which has a capacity of 550 MW (“India”).

In 2017, Tesla built the world’s largest virtual power plant in Australia, so large it can “provide as much capacity as a large gas turbine or coal power plant” (“Tesla). The Australian government and Tesla are both “calling the project the world’s largest virtual power plant, and — if fully built out — it will provide 250 megawatts of dispatchable electricity from the distributed home solar panels, and energy storage units” (“Tesla”).

Biggest Solar Installation Worldwide, India v China

The largest solar installations used to be in the US, but as of 2017, the biggest installations are in India and China (Hoium). These countries are trading the title of biggest solar farm back and forth between them.

This is what 1,000 MW’s (1 GW) of solar energy looks like, Longyangxia Dam Solar Farm (Thanks to NASA for the image).

In 2016, the 648 MW Tamil Nadu installation unseated the Topaz Solar Farm for the top spot. In February of 2017, China’s 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park unseated India’s 648 MW’s.

On April 28, 2018, India’s 1,000 MW (1 GW) Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park reclaimed India’s primacy in solar farms. India plans to install another 1,000 MW this year.

Biggest Battery Project

The biggest solar gridscale battery in existence is the Hornsdale Power Reserve battery located in South Australia. The battery was first charged in November of 2017 and charged to 31 MW in 2 minutes.

Thanks to Hornsdale Power for the photo.

Elon Musk famously bet he could deliver 100 megawatts of storage in 100 days or it would be free (Spector). The 100 MW mark sets Tesla ahead of its nearest competitor AES, which has installed the next largest system with the 30 MW, 120 megawatt-hour system it installed for San Diego Gas and Electric.

Boldest Solar Project

Cicero said that fortune favors the bold. We chose a boldest project because solar energy has defined itself by taking bold chances, finding a new way, and surprising everyone. We suspect that the benefits and lessons of South Australia’s project will far exceed expectations and will lead to many more similarly empowering projects.

The boldest new solar project is Tesla’s latest deal with South Australia, known as the world’s largest virtual power plant. At the outset of this project, Tesla will install its solar systems, including solar panels and Powerwall 2 batteries, on 1,100 public housing units in South Australia. If this pilot phase is successful, then Tesla will install solar on another 24,000 public housing units as well as some private homes, reaching a total of 50,000 home solar energy systems.

Thanks to Tesla for this photo of its Powerwall 2.

The project is expected to be completed by 2022. It will provide 250 MW of dispatchable electricity from the collection of up to 50,000 home solar energy systems. In addition to providing electricity for the homes, the excess electricity can be sent out onto the grid. The excess electricity and storage capacity would then be monitored with software and used depending on the grid’s needs. Customers could also use the power in their storage systems in the event of a blackout (Fehrenbacher).

A capacity of 250 MW equates to about 20 percent of the daily average energy requirements of the region. The South Australian government estimates the new systems will lower participants bills by 30%. Participants living in the public housing units will receive the technology free of charge, so everyone involved in the project stands to gain something, a real win-win.

Solar Energy Projects in the United States

First Solar’s New Manufacturing Plant

First Solar announced in April that it plans to open a 1.2 GW factory to manufacture Series 6 thin-film PV modules, which are exempt from the recent tariff imposed on other solar panel suppliers. First Solar will open the new plant in Township, Ohio and should employ at least 500 people. Ohio. Construction will begin this year and the factory is expected to be completed and operating by late 2019, contingent on incentive packages under negotiation (Pyper).

This expansion will bring First Solar’s US manufacturing capacity for thin-film PV solar modules to 1.8 GW. By way of comparison, Tesla’s solar Gigafactory is estimated to have 1 GW of yearly capacity by late 2019, with plans for 2 GW in the future.

The Series 6 is exempt from the recent tariffs that are crippling its competitors because the tariffs only apply to crystalline-silicon photovoltaics (CSPV). Some years ago, First Solar separated from the pack and began using cadmium-telluride solar technologies that are now exempt from solar tariffs (Pyper).

Isn’t It Cold There: Solar Energy in Kansas

We can report firsthand that Kansas is cold in winter, cold enough to freeze people and even hardy, fur-covered livestock, to death. Dead. Frozen. Kansas, you may recall is flat, has in fact been scientifically certified flatter even than a pancake. So nothing stops the north wind from blowing all the way across the long and short of Kansas. It’s cold there in winter. If we needed a real-life example and assertion of the strength and efficiency of solar energy, Mid-States’ new solar farm is it.

Thanks to PV Magazine for the photo of a Kansas wheat field.

According to its website, “Lightsource BP has signed a 25-year power purchase and asset acquisition agreement with Mid-Kansas Electric Company (Mid-Kansas) Inc. . .Mid-Kansas is a cooperatively operated wholesale generation and transmission utility serving members across the state of Kansas.”

The 20 MW solar project will be built in Stanton County starting in early 2019. Lightsource will own and operate the facility while Mid-Kansas will purchase the solar energy output. Upon completion, it will be the largest solar facility in Kansas.

Steve Epperson, Mid-Kansas Chairman of the Board, explained that “The decreasing cost of photovoltaic technology, along with other industry dynamics, makes it the right time to bring solar energy into our generation mix.” Because of this deal, Mid-Kansas will get “cost-effective on-peak energy and capacity” and “reduce loading on a transmission line that is nearing full capacity, thus deferring or eliminating a costly upgrade requirement for the Mid-Kansas transmission system” (“Lightsource BP”).

California’s New Roofs

California has legislated a new set of energy standards regulating new home construction to take effect in 2020. The solar roof mandate is just one part of the new code. Together these standards “enable some pretty groundbreaking developments in the advancement of clean energy” according to Julia Pyper with Green Technology Media (GTM).

For the first time in the US anywhere, the new standards call for solar panels atop all new buildings under three stories. A boat of other standards incentivizes energy storage and promotes efficiency upgrades comprehensive enough to reduce energy consumption in new buildings by as much as 50%.

The new solar PV requirement is calculated based on the climate of the location and the floor area of the building or dwelling. New PV systems must be large enough to produce as many KW’s as the buildings are likely to use.

Solar energy systems ranging from 2.7-5.7 KW’s are expected to be installed on new homes. This number compares to the average size of 6.8 KW’s for a solar retrofit on an existing home in California today.

Georgia’s New Solar Installation

In November First Solar will begin construction on a 200 MW solar farm in Twiggs County, Georgia. The project, still unnamed, was first awarded as part of a 525 MW request for proposals.

First Solar will develop the project under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Georgia Power. When completed, the project will be the largest stand-alone solar PV farm in the southeastern United States (Hill).

Also located in Georgia, Hanwha Q Cells Korea Corporation will build a solar PV module manufacturing plant in Whitfield County, Georgia. This project will also begin in 2018 and be completed by 2019.

Hanwha Q did not disclose the exact capacity of the new plant but said capacity would exceed 1.6 GW yearly. The company will manufacture Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) solar modules at the factory. All production will be made available to Hanwha Q Cells Co. Ltd. to supply its rooftop and ground-mount market segments.

Although the new tariffs on solar cells and modules no doubt influenced the company’s decision, Hanwha Q Cells added that the new plant will allow Hanwha to maintain a healthy market position here. Since the US was the second-largest solar market in 2017, and since products manufactured in the US are not subject to the new tariffs, building its own plant in Georgia, Hanwha believes, opens the door to even greater future profits.

Solar Energy Projects for Students

We were delighted to find an excellent annotated list of solar energy projects for students compiled by www.builditsolar.com. The list also contains links to the various projects listed. We must mention we love the solar energy coloring book, but the projects listed range in age appropriateness.

Here is a link to a list of solar energy projects for students. Here is a link to a solar science curriculum provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Here is another link to solar energy project for students, but letsgosolar.com charges a fee for its learning kits.

Solar Science Projects for Everyone

Here is a link to a Google search for solar science projects for engineering students.

Works Cited

Fehrenbacher, Katie. “https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/tesla-virtual-power-plant-south-australia#gs.V65Nel4.” 6 February 2018. https://www.greentechmedia.com. Webpage. 27 April 2018.

Hill, Joshua S. “https://cleantechnica.com/2018/02/22/first-solar-to-build-200-mw-solar-project-in-georgia-largest-in-southeast-us/.” 22 February 2018. https://cleantechnica.com. Webpage. 28 May 2018.

Hoium, Travis. “https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/08/07/the-5-largest-solar-projects-in-the-world-and-none.aspx.” 7 August 2017. https://www.fool.com. Webpage. 28 May 2018.

“https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/india-unveils-world-largest-solar-power-plant-161129101022044.html.” 30 November 2016. https://www.aljazeera.com. Webpage. 28 May 2018.

“https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-projects-map.” 2018. https://www.energy.gov. Webpage. 26 May 2018.

https://www.lightsourcebp.com/us/2018/03/lightsource-bp-build-solar-farm-kansas-mid-kansas-electric-company/. 1 March 2018. Webpage. 30 May 2018.

“https://www.seia.org/research-resources/major-solar-projects-list.” 2018. https://www.seia.org. Webpage. 28 May 2018.

Piper, Julia. “https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/first-solar-to-open-new-us-manufacturing-plant#gs.poMIG5U.” 26 April 2018. https://www.greentechmedia.com. Webpage. 1 May 2018.

Pyper, Julia. https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/everything-you-need-to-know-about-californias-new-solar-roof-mandate?utm_source=Storage&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GTMStorage#gs.V_F9W6c. 21 May 2018. Webpage. 31 May 2018.

Spector, Julian. “https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/tesla-fulfills-australia-battery-bet-whats-that-mean-industry#gs.LZxitL8.” 17 November 2017. https://www.greentechmedia.com. Webpage. 28 May 2018.

As always, it has been a pleasure writing for you.