Top 10 Solar PV power stations in the world

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Top 10 Solar PV power stations in the world

1. Agua Caliente Solar Project, Arizona USA (626GWh)

Agua Caliente Solar Project (Credit: First Solar)

We're finally here - the largest solar panel power plant in the world is located in the desert about 160 kilometers southwest of Phoenix.  The plant was just completed in April 2014 and that has a lot to do with why it's in the number 1 position.  Swanson's Law (really just an observation) tells us that the cost for the panels that make up a PV plant halve roughly every two years - meaning that every two years companies can build plants double the size for the same price.  Of course that's not exactly accurate as there are other costs besides just the panels.  Notably, the Agua Caliente installation went for a very cost efficient model.  The panels are thin film cells manufactured by First Solar that arecheaper on a per watt basis than those manufactured from crystalline silicon.  The plant also does not use a tracking module to point the panels at the sun - another cost savings.  This is a case of Swanson's Law in action.  Maximising the sheer number of panels and getting the most solar bang for the buck.  If Swanson's Law continues to prove true, don't expect Agua Caliente to hold onto its number 1 position for long.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the top 10 PV solar plants in the world.  Of course, solar power isn't the only technology that will help us solve the climate change problem and decarbonise our energy supply.  The world needs a mix of solar, wind, marine, CCS and even nuclear power to prevent climate change and rising temperatures.  Have a browse on those links to find out what's happening in these technologies, or, if you're still hungry for solar energy stories, have a read of this:

2. Mesquite Solar Project, Arizona USA (413GWh)

Mesquite Solar Project (Credit: Sempra Energy)

The only area that rivals the Mojave Desert in the US for intense solar radiation would have to be the southern Arizona desert.  With over 300 days of sunshine, The Mesquite Solar Project is well situated, 100 kilometers outside the major metropolitan area of Phoenix (Pop. 1.5 million).   It has the potential to power 260,000 homes.  The plant is run by US power company, Sempra Energy with 800,000 panels supplied by Chinese manufacturer Suntech Power. (We recently wrote about Suntech on our weekly 5).  At 413GW/h, the Mesquite Solar project is massive, but it's not the biggest in the world - nor is it the biggest in the United States, and, believe it or not, it's not even the biggest plant in Arizona!


3. California Valley Solar Ranch, California USA


California Valley Solar Ranch (Credit: NRG Energy)

Sunny California features again in our top 10 lists at the number 3 position.  The California Solar Ranch is located 270 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles and covers 1,966 acres of former grazing land.  The plant is owned by power company NRG Energy and was developed by PV panel manufacturer SunPower.  Sunpower also provided 88,000 tracking modules that pivot the panels - allowing them to absorb the maximum amount of rays all through the day.  The solar plant powers roughly 100,000 homes.  There are around 2 million homes in the Los Angeles area, and that equates to 5% of LA homes potentially powered by solar

4. Huanghe Hydropower Golmud Solar Park, Qinghai

China (317GWh)

​Huanghe Hydropower Golmud Solar Park (Credit: Yingle Solar)

Don't be fooled by the name, although the site is managed by Huanghe Hydropower, the plant is purely PV - and developed by Yingli Solar.  You may recognise Yingli from their billboards around the 2014 World Cup, and for providing solar power to the games there.   Qinghai province in China shows up again as a hotspot for high capacity solar farms.  One thing to note about Chinese solar plants is that they're getting much more bang for their kilowatt buck.  The per capita electricity consumption for China is 3,298 kWhr while a Western country like the USA uses 13,246 kWhr.  By this measure China gets more than 4 X the value of energy per person.  No wonder that solar plants are popping up like daisies in China.    However, at this point in the list, we say goodbye to China and move on to the top 3 positions.

5. Catalina Solar Project, California USA (204GWh)

Catalina Solar Project (Credit: EDF Renewable Energy)

California's Mojave Desert is a popular spot for solar plants and deservedly so - it has some of the highest solar insolation levels in North America, as well as energy hungry metropolitan areas of Southern California close by.  The Catalina Solar Project is jointly owned by EDF Renewable Energyand financial services company TIAA-CREF. The plant produces enough energy to power about 35,000 homes and will offset about 74,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions - the latter being very important in meeting California's tough emission standards.


6. Xitieshan PV Plant, Qinghai China (150GWh)

Xitieshan PV Plant (Credit: CGN)

China represents in the top 10 again at number 6.  Similar to the Ningxia plant, the Xitieshan installation takes advantage of clear skies and good sunlight in Northwest china, this time in the Qinghai province.  The plant was developed by the CGN Solar Energy Development Co a subsidiary of China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation. At the time of its completion in 2011 it was the biggest solar installation by gigawatt in the world - but things are moving so fast in the space that in 2014 it's fallen to number 6.  But don't count China out, as we'll see a bit further up the list.

7. Ningxia Qingyang Solar Park, Ningxia China


Ningxia solar park (Credit: CGL-Poly)

Located in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China, this plant takes advantage of the relativelyelevated solar insolation levels of the high desert region.  The plant covers an area of 2.3 square kilometers in the Tengger Desert.   Hong Kong based GCL-Poly developed the site and owns 51% of the plant.   The company notes that the solar farm reduces the evaporation of surface water, and assists with greening measures.  In areas where desert conditions make agriculture difficult, solar panels could provide an important boost by giving shade to crops and preventing evaporation and erosion.

8. Perovo Solar Park, Perovo Crimea (133GWh)

Perovo Solar Park (credit: Activ Solar)

Although Crimea isn't a country itself, the region is currently occupied by Russia and formerly held by Ukraine.  That puts the Perovo Solar Park in a precarious position.  Historically the region has imported between 60 percent and 90 percent of its power from Ukraine. Although the station has the power to supply around 16,000 homes in the area, that's unlikely to be enough.   The power station is owned by Austrian power company Activ Solar and has enjoyed a relatively high feed-in tariff from the Ukraine government of €0.46 per kilowatt hour.

9.  Silver State North Project, Nevada USA (122GWh)

​Silver State North Solar Proejct (credit: Enbridge)

Similar to its brother north of the border, the Silver State North Project is a thin film solar farm developed by First Solar and now owned by Enbridge in Clark County, Nevada - near Las Vegas.  The plant generates enough electricity to power 15,000 homes in Nevada and California.  A legacy of the Obama administration's American Recovery Act, First Solar was eligible to receive 30% of the construction cost back from the government - or around $30 million.

10.  Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant, Ontario Canada


Sarnia PV Power Plant (Credit: First Solar)

In 2010, Sarnia was the largest power plant in the world but has since been surpassed by other installations further up the list.  The plant was developed by panel manufacturer First Solar and energy company Enbridge and was made possible by a generous Canadian government feed-in tariff of CDN 44.3 cents per kW·h.  The plant is notable for its sheer size -- it contains about 635 acres (96.6 ha) of modules, which is about 1.3 million panels -- but it's also unusual for using a novel Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film technology, pioneered by First Solar.