By the Blouin News Science & Health staff

Top 5 mega solar projects in the world

by in Environment.

(Source: Pete Jelliffe/flickr)

(Source: Pete Jelliffe/flickr)

Solar power is gaining momentum all over the world, with 2016 poised to break records yet again with new added capacity. Below, Blouin News highlights five mega solar projects, both existing and upcoming, which show how much of an impact grid-scale solar can make.

1. Solar Star, California, U.S. (579MW)

Solar Star is made up of two co-located plants that collectively use 1.7 million solar panels. Construction of the farms started in early 2013 and was completed in June 2015.

The panels are on single-axis trackers that follow the sun, which optimizes their output by up to 25%. The 579MW capacity site generates enough electricity to power around 255,000 homes. Solar Star is estimated to displace 570,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually, which is the equivalent of removing 108,000 cars from the road every year.

As Blouin News recently noted, utility-scale solar projects like this one have become increasingly popular. With the extension of a key federal investment tax credit, more will be on the way. The U.S. is on track to add 14.5GW of new solar capacity this year, and is expected to keep adding double-digit GWs through 2020.

2. Noor 1, Ourrzazate, Morocco (160MW now, 580MW planned)

Morocco initiated the first phase of its flagship concentrated solar power (CSP) project in February. Noor 1 currently has 160MW capacity, made up of 500,000 curved mirrors that are each about 40 feet tall. These mirrors concentrate the sun’s light onto a pipeline filled with fluid, heating it up to 739 degrees Fahrenheit. This fluid is used to heat up a nearby source of water, which turns to steam and spins turbines to create energy. The plant can even continue generating power after dark, by storing the heat from the fluid in a tank of molten salts. Currently, Noor I can provide solar power to 650,000 locals from dawn until three hours past sunset.

Two extensions of the project are underway, Noor 2 and 3, with a 2018 completion date. The finished 580MW capacity plant will not only be vastly larger; it will also provide power for 20 hours per day.

Morocco will prevent millions of tons of CO2 emissions with Noor and its other pending solar projects. Just as important, they will also be a big step towards reaching the kingdom’s goal of having renewables generate 42% of its electricity by 2020 (with 2GW from solar and 2GW from wind). Morocco currently depends on imports for 97% of its energy consumption, so tapping into solar would lessen that dependence.

3. Rewa Ultra Mega Solar, Madhya Pradesh, India (750MW planned)

750MW Rewa isn’t the largest solar park on the drawing board in India, but it will be a massive one that should be ready fairly soon. The first of three phases, each entailing 250MW capacity of pv panels, is expected to begin generating electricity next June. And the entire project is expected to be operational by December 2017.

In another positive sign, solar energy is being incorporated into India’s densely-packed megacities. Earlier this month, India’s largest subway system – Delhi Metro Rail Corporation – signed an agreement to purchase 150MW of electricity from Rewa, nearly 500 miles away.

Rewa was among the first “ultra mega” solar power projects approved by the national government under its revised solar power target of 100GW by March 2022. Achieving even a fifth of that lofty goal would go a long way towards improving India’s coal-heavy energy mix, and would save millions of tons of CO2 emissions.

4. Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, Dubai, U.A.E. (5,000MW planned)

Dubai is aiming for another innovation record with its grand plan for a 5,000MW CSP park. Just like Morocco’s Noor, several thousand mirrors will heat fluid in a central tower, which will power a steam turbine to produce electricity. The first phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is expected to be completed either in late 2020 or 2021, with a 1,000MW capacity. The goal for 2030, however, is a staggering 5,000MW — enough to raise the emirate’s total power output by 25%.

At such an economy of scale, the new plant is predicted to deliver power at less than 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, down from the typical 15 cents per kilowatt-hour rate. More importantly, once complete, the solar park is expected to reduce 6.5 million tons of carbon emissions each year — nearly double what a typical coal plant spews out each year.

The ambitious CSP plant is part of Dubai’s Clean Energy Strategy 2050, which entails the emirate generating 7% of its total power from clean energy by 2020, followed by 25% in 2030, and 75% by 2050.

5. Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, Qinghai, China (850MW)

China currently has the world’s largest operational solar project. The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park began with 320MW of pv panels in 2013, and an additional 530MW were added last year in phase II. What sets Longyangxia apart from the other mega-projects apart from size is its advantage from integrating with a hydropower system.

According to a report by the International Hydropower Association, the solar park is coupled directly to one of four turbines at the nearby 1,280MW hydro station. An advanced control system allows the turbine to regulate the real-time variable supply from the solar park before sending steady power to the grid. “This minimises the grid’s need for reserve capacity, frequency control and voltage regulation, and maximises PV utilisation and conserves water,” the report wrote.

China has made remarkable strides in solar installation over the last few years. From a tiny portion of the country’s energy mix as late as 2011, China was the largest market for solar last year, ending with 43.2GW of installed capacity. In March the country’s National Energy Administration announced a plan to add 15-20GW of new solar pv capacity each year until 2020, aiming for a total of 143GW by then. Considering that China manufactured 70% of all solar panels worldwide last year (around 43GW worth), and that the country excels at mega-infrastructure projects, this goal is not far-fetched.

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Be sure to follow Blouin News’ ongoing coverage of solar.