11-MW Solar PV Plant Dedicated in Portugal

Spread across 150-acres on a Portuguese hillside, 52,000 photovoltaic modules sit amid the olive trees generating electricity at one of the world’s largest solar power plants in the town of Serpa. After eight months of construction and testing, GE Energy Financial Services, a unit of General Electric, PowerLight, a subsidiary of SunPower Corporation and Catavento SA dedicated the 11-megawatt (MW) Serpa solar power plant on Wednesday.

Located in Portugal’s Alentejo agricultural region, 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of Lisbon, the plant uses PowerLight’s PowerTracker system to follow the sun’s daily path across the sky and generate more electricity than conventional fixed-mounted systems. The Serpa solar power plant incorporates photovoltaic modules from SunPower, Sanyo, Sharp and Suntech. “This project is successful because Portugal’s sunshine is plentiful, the solar power technology is proven, government policies are supportive, and we are investing and delivering under GE’s ecomagination initiative to help our customers meet their environmental challenges,” said Kevin Walsh, managing director and leader of renewable energy at GE Energy Financial Services. GE Energy Financial Services financed and purchased the project in an approximately $75 million transaction last year. PowerLight, a global solar power system provider, designed, deployed, operates and maintains the plant. Catavento, a Portuguese renewable energy company, developed and manages the project, which began feeding Portugal’s electricity grid in late January. “The Serpa solar power plant speaks to the green power initiatives now setting Europe on a course toward ambitious emissions reductions goals. By assembling a first-class team of companies in the solar arena, we’ve achieved a remarkable renewable energy milestone,” said Tom Dinwoodie, PowerLight CEO. Portugal relies heavily on imported fossil fuels, and its carbon dioxide emissions have increased 34 percent since 1990, among the fastest rates in the world. To address this, the country is implementing some of the world’s most advanced incentives for installing renewable energy. The Serpa project relies on a preferential tariff mandated by the Portuguese government. At Wednesday’s ceremony, a Euro 3.7 million (US $4.8 million) contract was signed for a grant to the project under the Portuguese government’s Economic Modernization Program. Solar power enjoys widespread support in Portugal, with the backing of 77 percent of the population, according to a European Commission study published in January. 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.” Added co-CEO Rui Pimenta: “We hope the government will clear remaining roadblocks so solar power can truly radiate across Portugal.” Construction of the Serpa project began in June 2006 and was completed as planned in January 2007. The facility consists of a ground-mounted photovoltaic system that uses silicon solar cell technology to convert sunlight directly into energy.
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