California, USA -- Winners of the Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards for Project of the Year Award represent facilities that signified excellence in five technologies: Solar, Wind, Biomass, Geothermal and Hydro.
Editors from the Renewable Energy World network, which includes five print magazines and four websites, selected the winners from among the finalists in each technology category. The award winners were announced and recognized on Tuesday night at the Renewable Energy World North America Conference and Expo, in Long Beach, California. Video interviews will be conducted with many of the winners during the show and will be posted on RenewableEnergyWorld.com in the coming weeks.
To be eligible for an award, a project needs to have been completed in 2011, be in North America and make a significant impact on the entire renewable energy industry. When judging the finalists, network editors considered the technology that was employed as well as the projects’ impact on the industry at large and on the communities in which they were installed.
For those in the renewable energy industries, success is often measured by the projects they produce. From that view, 2011 was a banner year. Some technologies, like solar, are working to achieve large-scale developments. Others, like hydro, are striving to go smaller by tapping into the power of water with new and inspiring approaches.
Solar Project of the Year — Agua Caliente, Yuma County, Ariz.
Critics may be unable to separate the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program from the Solyndra bankruptcy. A sweeping view of the sprawling Agua Caliente Solar Project on 2,400 acres in the southwest corner of Arizona may give them a different perspective of the program’s legacy. Once completed, Agua Caliente will be a 290-MW solar park powered by First Solar thin-film panels. More than anything, though, it will come to represent the major shift currently underway in solar energy — that is, the move toward large-scale solar. With 39 MW online as of December, Agua Caliente already ranks among the biggest solar farms in the country.
Once completed in 2014, it will be several times bigger, but it may pale in comparison to even bigger projects that are coming along right behind it, projects like the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm in California.
When the Department of Energy started its loan guarantee program, it hoped that the federal backing would spur development and provide investors with confidence that large-scale solar projects would be a good bet. That blueprint so far is proving successful. NRG Energy acquired the project from First Solar in August, and in December, investment guru Warren Buffett doubled down on the future of American solar by acquiring a 49 percent stake in the project. Earlier in the month Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy purchased the Topaz project outright in a deal that many took as a signal to the viability of large-scale solar. Topaz was among the large solar projects that was unable to close on a conditional loan guarantee with the DOE in September.
Agua Caliente will deliver power to the California market through a signed PPA with Pacific Gas and Electric. It is also expected to create 400 jobs during construction.