The World's Largest Thin-Film Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant: 10 Megawatts

thin-film solar power plant photo

The world's previous thin-film solar record holder was this plant in Germany, with 6 megawatts of capacity.

In what has got to be one of the most ludicrous bits of public-relations-speak I've heard in a while, First Solar and Sempra have announced that they will be jointly constructing the world's largest thin-film solar photovoltaic power plant. The capacity of this monster: 10 megawatts.

The details from CNET: Located next to Sempra's El Dorado gas power plant, about 40 miles from Las Vegas, the new solar PV plant will begin construction this month and is expected to finish later in the year. Sempra will own and operate the plant, with First Solar monitoring and maintaining the facility.
Can we hold off on the "world's largest" claims in renewable energy for a while?
I don't mean to be down on this project. We need every bit of renewable energy development in the world—provided it doesn't do more harm than good, like the rush to embrace biofuels which has millions of people into poverty—and this project will take us one more step along the long path to a post-carbon future.

However, the drum beat of world's largest, world's biggest, world's best in the renewable energy industry sometimes can be too much. It's all needed, but we still have a long way to go. Especially if the goal is all-renewable electric generation in 10 years, as Al Gore envisions.

Where are we now, in the United States, in terms of renewable energy capacity?
At the end of 2007, the electric generating capacity of the United States was 1,089,807 megawatts. Of that 2.5% came from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, with an additional 5.8% coming from hydro.

So announcing that you have created the world's largest something when that something is fractions of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of overall demand seems absurd. We might as well start creating world's largest categories for power plants whose construction was done only on Tuesdays by men wearing red hats.

A 10 megawatt thin-film solar plant may be important for thin-film solar plants, but is a drop in the ocean of overall energy demand.

Genuinely large projects on the drawing board
Not to mention that there have been some genuinely large renewable energy facilities announced recently: The 1,000 MW London Array and T. Boone Pickens' 4,000 megawatt wind farm spring to mind. And I also don't mean to discount the potential of microgenerated power to compete with fossil fuels. But when everything is billed as the largest, biggest and best, it is easy to miss the importance of each project in the wider scheme of things. It also leads to a bit of world record fatigue.

So when Sempra president Michael Allman says, "We look forward to helping the region's utilities meet the state requirements calling for them to include solar, wind and other renewable energy sources in the power portfolios," I can't help but think 'you're really not helping that much', at least not yet.

Sempra Energy has contacted me and pointed out that I was incorrect in saying that they claimed this was the world's largest thin-film solar PV plant. Sempra says that this will be the largest such plant in North America.
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Update: If you are interested in solar power, also check out 15 Photovoltaics Solar Power Innovations You Must See.

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