Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Largest-producing solar power plant inaugurated

March 29, 2007 - LISBON: The world's largest-producing solar power plant was inaugurated yesterday in Portugal. The 11-megawatt 61m-euro ($78.5m) plant, a joint project of US energy companies GE Energy Financial Services, PowerLight Corporation, and Portuguese renewable energy company Catavento, spreads across a 60-hectare hillside in Serpa, 200 km southeast of Lisbon. Southern Portugal, one of the sunniest places in Europe, has as much as 3,300 hours of sunlight a year. The new plant will produce enough power to supply 8,000 homes and will also prevent the emission of 30,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year when compared to fossil fuels.
The photovoltaic system it uses employs silicon solar cell technology to convert sunlight directly into electricity. It will produce 20 gigawatt hours of power per year. Construction of the plant began in June 2006. It started working partially in January 2007. The facility is owned by GE Energy Financial Services, and will be operated and maintained by PowerLight, which also designed it. Management services will be undertaken by Catavento, which developed the project.

"This project is successful because Portugal's sunshine is plentiful, the solar power technology is proven, government policies are supportive, and we are investing ... to help our customers meet their environmental challenges," said Kevin Walsh, managing director and leader of renewable energy at GE Energy Financial Services. "This is the most productive solar plant in the world, it will produce 40 percent more energy than the second largest one, Gut Erlasse in Germany," said Howard Wenger principal of Powerlight.

Piero Dal Maso, co-CEO of Catavento, said the project "serves as a beacon to the world to show how to overcome challenges of scale and complexity." Co-CEO Rui Pimenta said he hoped the government would clear remaining roadblocks "so solar power can truly radiate across Portugal."

Portugal is almost entirely dependent on imported energy, but is developing large wave and solar power projects and building wind farms to supply some 750,000 homes. It also is exploring new hydropower projects and plans to invest 8bn euros ($10.8bn) in renewable energy projects over the next five years.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates said in January that his Socialist government wanted 45 per cent of Portugal's total power consumption to come from renewable sources by 2010. Though it is a 12-megawatt plant, Gut Erlasse solar park in Bavaria produces less electricity because it is located at a higher latitude with less sun.

The scheme fits into Portugal's plans of reducing its reliance on imported energy and cutting output of greenhouse gasses that feed global warming. Portugal's emissions have surged about 37 per cent since 1990, one of the highest increases in the world. By bringing modern technology to one of western Europe's poorest regions, the $US75-million plant is expected to bring alternative development to the Alentejo.

There are also plans to build a solar power plant in the neighbouring town of Moura.

Press Release from PowerLight Corporation

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