Photovoltaic Installations: Around the World

We went looking for photovoltaic installations that were either utility-scale ground-mount systems or smaller roof-top installations. We found those, plus a little of everything in between. In this category, we recognize large and small installations in Canada, Tibet, Gambia, Belgium, California and Shenzhen, and a special project at a children’s museum in North Carolina.

Solar Tunnel

In June of 2011, high-efficiency solar panels — 16,000 of them, with a rating of 245W each — were turned on, on the roof of a high-speed rail tunnel in Antwerp, Belgium (all of which were supplied by JinkoSolar). The 3.6-kilometer (2.2-mile) tunnel was built to protect trains from falling trees as they pass through an ancient forest. The solar installation is the result of a collaboration between Belgian rail operator Infrabel, renewable energy developer Enfinity, the municipalities of Brasschaat and Schoten, financing companies FINEA and IKA, and construction company, Solar Power Systems.

The project, known as the Solar Tunnel, is the first of its kind in Europe in that it is the first time the railway infrastructure has been used to generate green energy. The €15.7 million ($21.5 million) project will supply 3300 MWh of electricity annually, enough to power 4,000 trains.

The installation covers a total surface area of 50,000m² (538,000 ft2). The electricity produced by the installation will be used to power railway infrastructure, such as signals, lighting and the heating of stations. It will also power the trains using the Belgian rail network. The endeavor is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 2,400 tons per year.

Nichols Farms

For the State of California, agribusiness is a major part of the state’s economy. It is also a segment that is heavily dependent on electricity and is often criticized for lack of environmental responsibility.

At Nichols Farms, the electricity consumption is high, but so is the owner’s sense of environmental responsibility. The farm is where two generations of the Nichols family work together to grow, process, package and market pistachios. Generating clean energy was seen as both an operational cost reduction and a sustainability project for the farm. To this end, SolFocus partnered with EPC Bechtel Power and developer Sol Orchard to design and construct a one megawatt Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV) power plant for the farm, based in Hanford, California.

The SolFocus CPV installation will produce 2.244 million kilowatt hours in the first year, which is roughly 70 percent of the processing facility electricity demand. The power plant, located on six acres adjacent to the pistachio processing facility, consists of 119 8.8-kW SolFocus SF-1100S CPV systems. The plant was connected to the regional electrical grid serviced by SoCal Edison in April 2011. The Nichols Farms project is delivering lower operating costs, and the impact of future increasing energy costs has been minimized. According to owner Chuck Nichols, the plant will pay for itself in just six years.

This CPV agribusiness project is the first of its kind, and one that immediately impacts sustainability. According to SolFocus, the CPV technology provides high energy yield and a small environmental footprint, meeting the needs of the Central Valley region which has abundant sun and a high desire to reduce emissions in the air.

The importance of the plant as a milestone project for agriculture was evidenced by the attendance of many dignitaries at the ribbon cutting on April 1, 2011, which included UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, Special Advisor to the Governor Michael Picker, Bechtel Power President Ian Copeland, and local and state legislative representatives.

Fischer Properties Depot Park

The Department of Energy’s initiative to turn brownfields into “brightfields” through solar power could generate clean energy, jobs and revenue for the community. If the 15 million acres of brownfield space in the U.S. were converted into solar generating brightfields it would provide 3 million megawatts of electricity.

SPG Solar has started the conversion of these community hazards and eyesores into productive “green” ventures. Depot Park is SPG Solar’s 3-MW installation at a redeveloped U.S. Army military facility and designated Superfund site. This solar installation, one of the largest ground-mounted tracking solar project in California, is deemed by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson as a “brownfield site into a renewable energy showcase.”

This 3-MW solar installation includes a 12,600-panel array and will produce enough power to meet approximately 40 percent of the annual electricity needs at Depot Park, which is the former Sacramento Army Depot. The installation operates as a peak-shaving efficiency project, leveling surges in electricity demand during peak usage times and reducing the park’s overall demand for electricity from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

This sizeable solar power system is maximizing land space that cannot be used for other applications – converting a brownfield into a greenfield – and has created nearly 100 green jobs in the community. The installation was completed on Dec. 29, 2010.

City of Madera wastewater treatment facility

The City of Madera’s wastewater treatment plant is one of the city’s largest utility buildings, and its vast energy needs cost Madera millions of dollars in maintenance annually. In an effort to reduce electricity costs for taxpayers and make use of abundant land while achieving sustainability initiatives, the City of Madera commissioned REC Solar to develop a 1.1MW solar installation with dual-axis tracking for the wastewater facility. This makes it one of the nation’s largest dual-axis tracker systems. Design and construction began in early 2010, and the system was completed in August 2010.

REC Solar used 94 dual-axis trackers that allow the mounted panels to follow the sun throughout the day. As such, the system produces 35 percent more energy compared to a traditional ground-mounted system. Adding to the technological complexity of the project, REC Solar said it had to navigate environmental sensitivities, as the system is located near an environmental marsh. Due to these delicate ground conditions, engineers determined that the system would be grounded with 19 pilings, each driven 10 feet into the ground, rather than digging holes. This enables the site to drain and poses minimal impact to the marsh.

Spreading 5,264 of REC Group’s panels over nine acres of land, the system represented Madera’s first step toward greening its municipal buildings. It is expected to produce an estimated 2.4 million kilowatt hours of energy annually and over 45 million kWh over 20 years, enough energy to power more than 4,200 average U.S. homes for one year. The city estimates the power system will meet 62 percent of the wastewater treatment facility’s power needs and save as much as $3 million off the plant’s power bills over the next 20 years. The environmental assets associated with the system will offset an estimated 47 million pounds of CO2 over twenty years, the equivalent of removing an estimated 4,600 cars off the road for one year.


Sault Ste. Marie

Q-Cells partnered with Satcon, an inverter provider, to deliver the largest solar installation in North America (at the time of installation) – a 20-MW system in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. It is comprised of two 10MW solar PV systems (approximately 80 acres each), and is a landmark PV installation in Canada. This is one of five solar facilities in Sault Ste. Marie that provide power for up to 8,000 Ontario homes, generating their peak power during the middle of the day, a time of highest demand on the local power grid. The facilities also reduce yearly carbon emissions by an amount equal to displacing 3,800 cars and light trucks each driving 12,000 miles per year or to planting more than 16 million trees in Ontario’s forests, according to Q-Cells.

There are a number of reasons this installation is noteworthy. Q-Cells produced a complete turnkey solution that optimized delivery of the project across the entire value chain and did so on a tight installation timeframe. The company was also able to work past the unique challenge that the Canadian regulatory authorities had not yet finalized the specifications for certification of inverters prior to the start of the project.

Q-Cells says it achieved this by coordinating its “cascading methodology” for installation, whereby the assembly process was achieved through staggering and alternating civil and electrical work, and was further expedited through just in time delivery of components and materials. Q-Cells said this methodology is designed around scalable, turnkey 1 MW blocks. Other advantages are that it’s repeatable, it maximizes the use of land and resources and it has a light environmental footprint. Installation was completed in December 2010.

Donauer Solartechnik: Health center in Gambia

From now on, clean drinking water and solar power will flow around the clock for the treatment of patients at the “River Boat Doctors International” (RDI) health center in Buniadu, Gambia. Donauer Solartechnik donated a grid-independent photovoltaic system to the association, plus a solar powered pump for a deep-water well. The health centre is staffed by an examination nurse, Heike Tautz, and by volunteer German nurses.

It began when RDI, a charitable organization, asked Donauer Solartechnik to design a PV system for the power and water supply of the health centre. Convinced by RDI’s work in Gambia, company owner Rudolf Donauer then decided to give the system to the association as a donation. Benedikt Böhm, from the off-grid department, flew to Gambia in order to install and start the system on-site.

Solar electricity at the health center is now produced by solar panels on the roof of the center, stored in batteries via inverters and used as needed for light or generators. Additional solar panels produce power to operate the pump for the well. Patients and staff now have clean drinking water and, at night, the center is the only brightly lit building within a radius of 15 kilometres (9.3 miles).

Donauer Solartechnik says that it formed an off-grid department in the beginning 2010 that combined its experience in the planning and distribution of photovoltaic stand-alone systems. The department provides solutions for independent power networks with photovoltaic or hybrid supply, industrial off-grid applications and systems for independent water supply. Systems for automatic emergency power supply during power cuts to hospitals or first-aid posts, for example, are also included in the range. In addition, with its Mobile Solar Power System, the company offers a container concept for energy supply in remote areas.

The company was founded in 1995 and today employs around 230 people. Its headquarters are in Gilching near Munich, and it has branches in Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium and Great Britain.

Power Flower

Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, NC, planted a 22-foot tall giant flower that’s powered by the sun. Dubbed the “Power Flower,” the new solar exhibit is sponsored by Progress Energy, and opened in the Museum’s Castaway Cove Kids Garden on Earth Day, Friday, April 22, 2011. Kids are able to experiment with the flower to see how solar energy makes its petals move. The structure is set up to spin so that children can turn the flower away from the sun or towards it to see how that impacts the motor. When the photovoltaic “leaves” of the Power Flower are facing the sun, the flowerhead spins faster.

The museum worked with Raleigh-based ClearScapes to design the Power Flower in partnership with Southern Energy Management (Morrisville, NC), which provided the solar design, engineering and installation.

“Power Flower offers an innovative, hands-on approach to learning about renewable energy resources,” said Lloyd Yates, president and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas (also based in Raleigh). “It’s important that we provide energy education opportunities that are accessible to children and prepare them to be wise energy consumers in the future.”

“What makes this project so much fun is that we get to combine the challenge of a really unique solar installation with the opportunity to teach people more about how solar power works,” Southern Energy Management’s David Boynton said. “We are thrilled to be partnering [with Progress, ClearScapes and Marbles] on such a cool idea.”

“We are so excited for the addition of Power Flower to Castaway Cove Kids Garden. A core initiative is ‘Growing Up Green,’ calling kids into action to help care for the earth and preserve its resources,” said Sally Edwards, President of Marbles Kids Museum. “An exhibit like this shows children the power of our most renewable resource – the sun.”

Lakeside Dairy

Lakeside Dairy in Hanford, CA, installed a new solar energy system to power its milking barn and other dairy operations and cut its use of conventional energy by 75 percent. The family-run dairy operation has 7,000 head of cattle and a custom farming business.

Developed, designed and installed by SPG Solar, the 891 kilowatt solar energy system consists of 3,240 Suntech solar modules and two Solaron inverters. It is projected to generate over 1.7 MW hours annually – enough to offset over 75 percent of the dairy’s utility power usage.


“The recent volatility of milk prices has underscored the importance of hedging our input costs,” said Mike Monteiro, the dairy’s owner. “The solar energy system will help us fix our energy costs and hedge against long term increases in utility power rates.”

The four-acre solar energy system powers Lakeside’s entire dairy operation, including the 11,000 ft2 milking barn, heifer corral lighting and fans, manure separator equipment, and well and irrigation equipment. Rabobank, N.A., a community bank that provides solar financing to California farms, businesses and public entities, is providing the construction and term financing for the solar project.

“By combining the savings from lower utility power bills with federal and state incentives, Rabobank structured the term loan to potentially be cash flow positive throughout the lifetime of the loan,” said Gianluca Signorelli, Vice President of Renewable Energy Finance for Rabobank. “Once the loan is repaid, the solar system is likely to create even larger savings for Lakeside Dairy.”

“Lakeside Dairy continues to show its commitment to solar that positively impacts their operations today, reducing future electricity costs and investing in the community through the creation of green jobs,” said CEO and President of SPG Solar, Chris Robine. “They are laying out a long-term strategy towards the sustainable production and quality of food produced.”

The solar project is the latest effort by Lakeside Dairy to become more sustainable. The farm’s manure-handling equipment removes about 50 tons of solid manure a day, thus preventing it from going into the lagoon and giving off gases from decomposition.

Tibet: World’s Highest PV System

A utility-scale 10MW PV installation, with a single-axis tracking system, went live in early 2011 in project in Yangbajing, about 90 km northwest of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. It is the world’s highest grid-connect system. It was commissioned by Longyuan (Beijing) Solar Engineering Technology Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of China Guodian Group, one of China’s five major power companies. The project, which is expected to ease power shortages in the area, cost about 220 million yuan ($32.2 million), will help save 150,500 tons of coal and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tons and sulfur dioxide emissions by 1,850 tons during the plant’s life span.

Single-axis trackers were provided by OSolar, which said it will deliver an estimated 20% more annual energy per kW than a fixed tilt PV system. “This plant is located at an altitude of 4,300 meters (14,000 ft) which makes it the world’s highest PV power plant,” said Jihun Kim, co-CEO of OSolar.

Established in January 1993, China Longyuan Power Group Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China Guodian (Group) Corporation, says it is a domestic leading enterprise in the renewable energy industry. By the end of 2009, the installed capacity of the company reached 6.4 GW, including 4,500 MW of wind power, 1,875MW of thermal power, 3.9 MW of tidal power, 24 MW of biomass power, and 1MW of geothermal power. This capacity allows them to claim the honor of the No.1 spot in Asia and No.5 globally, in terms of installation capacity in renewable energy. The company reports that it has made great efforts to develop PV power in areas rich in solar resources, namely Qinghai, Xinjiang, Gansu, Tibet, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia.

Hilltop Estate

A 150-kilowatt system featuring high-performance solar panels from SolarWorld sets a new high-water mark for system size among residential solar power installations in the Americas.

The owners of the new residential solar system, who have requested anonymity, placed their installation on a craggy slope along their hilltop estate in Southern California, omitting a block of six solar panels to accommodate a protruding boulder.

According to SolarWorld, the system also sets a new size record for the company’s Sunkits solar systems. The turn-key system program enables electrical contractors who wish to undertake solar installation to do so while continuing to specialize in their strong suits: gathering site-specific details from their customers and completing electrical-installation work on-site

The new record-breaking system in Southern California – installed by SRC Inc., an electrical contractor based in Vista, Calif. – came from the Ramona, Calif., branch of Consolidated Electrical Distributors Inc., a wholesale electrical distribution company based in Irving, Texas.

Eddie Freeman, manager of the CED-Ramona office, expects Sunkits sales to grow about 50 percent to end 2011 at about $1.5 million. While the 150-kilowatt system is far bigger than CED-Ramona’s average 5-kilowatt Sunkits system, Freeman forecasts that unit sales will approach 100 this year.

Aside from 600 250-W mono-crystalline SolarWorld Sunmodules, the system comprises 15 inverters from SMA America, racking from Prosolar Professional Solar Inc. as well as hundreds of units of general electrical and hardware supplies.

Shenzhen Bus Stop

DuPont Apollo recently provided solar modules and system design to enable the first public bus stop powered by thin film solar photovoltaic (PV) technology in the Guangming New District of Shenzhen China.

The standalone PV system has an installation capacity of 1.7 kWp and a production capacity of 1992 kWh/year, which meets the power needs of the bus stop for lighted signs, including an LED advertising light box, display panel and bus stop panel.

“Although this is a relatively small scale project, it demonstrates the vast ability for solar energy to help reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels,” said Austin Jwo, sales and marketing manager, DuPont Apollo.

Power is stored in a hidden battery at the top of the bus stop as an anti-theft measure, and the windshield has ventilation holes to help cooling. The district plans to introduce more public bus stops using thin film PV modules and PV systems, pending positive feedback.


Yosemite National Park has always been green, but now it’s even greener, thanks to a new 700kW solar system insalled on the park’s maintenance building. The installation, which was done by Suntrek Industries, Inc. of Irvine, California, incorporates over 2,800 solar collectors that will produce over 800,000 kWh annually.


Suntrek collaborated with the National Park Service, architects Taylor Teter, and PIA to bring this high profile project from conception to completion. On July 27, 2011, the National Park Service conducted a national media event and ribbon cutting ceremony on the premises of Yosemite’s maintenance facility campus.

“We designed the systems so that we could produce clean solar energy from roof tops, car ports, construction yard walls, and the façade of the building itself,” said Suntrek project manager Alex Smith.

The $4.4 million project was made possible thanks to an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, according to Park Ranger and spokesperson Jessica Chamberlain. “Basically, it meets the park’s air quality goals and pollution reduction goals and allows it to be a leader on renewable energy,” she said. “The goal wasn’t to save money, but rather to make progress in regards to renewable energy.” Of course, the installation is allowing the 1,189-square-mile park to cut its reliance on grid-supplied electricity and saving money.

“This energy-saving photovoltaic project reflects Yosemite National Park’s commitment to sustainable and renewable energy sources.” said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher.

Suntrek President and CEO Roy Heine commented, “The Yosemite solar system took years of planning by the National Park Service. With limited roof space available, the design challenge was met by the maintenance facility’s building walls that were not only oriented to the South but were at an angle suitable for great solar gain based on their unique architecture.”

Green Carrots

Denver, Colorado-based Grimmway Enterprises Inc., the largest carrot grower in the world, is making its carrots green with Conergy USA. The 230kW ground-mounted system, featuring more than 1,000 solar modules, was constructed on one of Grimmway’s carrot farms located near Arvin, California. The installation will prevent the release of around 150,000 lbs of CO2 per year, reduce energy consumption by 40 percent and reduce the electric bill by 50 percent. Grimmway is a PG&E Clean and Green Awardee. PG&E presents the award to 100 companies across the globe each year who show leadership in energyefficiency and conservation. “We are very happy to support the green path of Grimmway Enterprises,” says Conergy’s Project Development Manager, David Vincent. “Now, Grimmway avoids the emission of greenhouse gases thanks to the Conergy solar plant. We are both extremely proud and are pleased that both growers and customers will benefit from the greening of Grimmway carrots.”

Conergy employs more than 1,700 people worldwide. Since Conergy’s founding in 1998, it has produced and sold more than 1.5 GW of clean solar power. Grimmway said it chose Conergy due to the company’s quality and safety standards. The nominator of this particular installation was also pleased: “The solar plant was completed on time and now produces clean energy from our beautiful Californian sun.”

Sarnia, Ontario

Last year, Canada made solar news headlines by opening a massive solar energy farm in Sarnia, Ontario. With 80MW of capacity, it is the largest in the world. Calgary-based energy and pipeline company, Enbridge, owns the farm, while Arizona-based First Solar Inc. handles operations and maintenance. The 950-acre farm creates enough clean energy to fuel nearly 13,000 homes a year.

The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) will purchase the solar energy produced over the 20-year contract it signed with Enbridge. Factoring in facilities already under construction, Enbridge’s green energy portfolio could reach 850 MW as a result of this newest installation.

The project was initially part of First Solar’s development portfolio. But the company sold it to Enbridge, a diversified energy development company looking to get into the solar space. Enbridge invested over CAD $300 million to expand the facility, which contains about 1.3 million cadmium telluride thin film modules from First Solar.

The Sarnia solar farm was the winner of last year’s Excellence in Renewable Energy Utility-Scale Project of the Year Award.

The largest photovoltaic power plants in the U.S. are the 25-MW DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Florida, and the 48-MW Copper Mountain facility in Nevada, the largest in the U.S. Sarnia’s record may not stand long, however: Construction on a second 150-MW phase of the Copper Mountain project is slated to start in early 2012, according to Sempra. The second phase will be brought online in two parts. The first 92-MW part of the plant is expected to come online in January 2013. The remaining 58 MWs are expected to be online by 2015.

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Renewable Energy World's content team members help deliver the most comprehensive news coverage of the renewable energy industries. Based in the U.S., the UK, and South Africa, the team is comprised of editors from Clarion Energy's myriad of publications that cover the global energy industry.

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