Sunny days: The world's biggest solar energy projects

More than a dozen solar energy projects -- each of which will generate more than 100 megawatts of energy -- are either being built or have been completed.

cw largest solar

Countries are competing to build the largest solar power plants

Clean energy is hot.

A groundswell of support for renewable power has sprung up around the world over the past several years, with governments, utilities and corporations racing to deploy or purchase green electricity.

Solar power is among the technologies leading the energy market in new deployments. In the U.S. last year, 36% of all new electric capacity came from solar, and the cost to deploy it has dropped more than 63% since 2010. In many U.S. states and in nations around the world, it's as cheap to use solar power as it is to buy electricity generated through coal-fired power plants.

Corporations are taking note. For example, Apple last month announced it would invest close to $1 billion in a solar power plant being built by First Solar in California; the move rocketed Apple past Walmart as the largest corporate user of solar power. Venture capitalists, too, are investing in renewables to the tune of $310 billion last year. Put simply, solar power is no longer just the bastion of crunchy granola types and companies hoping to improve their public image. 

The global installed capacity of solar electricity has increased six-fold between 2010 and 2013, from 23 gigawatts (1GW is a billion watts) to 180GW.

Utility-scale solar power plants are still larger than private installations, which typically offer far less cpacity. As adoption increases, governments and utilities are in a race to see who can build the largest plants the fastest. India is planning a series of solar parks that will produce 10,000MW of solar power, and both India and China plan on deploying 100GW of new solar power between now and 2022. 

Here are the world's largest solar power plants, as well as a look at a few other projects that will top the list in coming years.

rajasthan solar project
Adani Enterprises

The 10,000MW solar parks project in Rejasthan, India

Adani Enterprises has penned an agreement with the government of Rajasthan, India to build a series of solar "parks" that, when completed in 2025, will provide 10,000MW of power. The plants are estimated to cost more than $6 billion. Adani plans to have 5,000MW of power online within five years. In the U.S., Adani's Rejasthan project would power more than 28 million homes.

India plans to install 100GW of solar power capacity by 2022. China expects to reach 100GW by 2020.

To give you some idea of how much growth that represents, globally this year solar power is expected to generate 200GW of power.

That 200GW of capacity is expected to be replicated every year for the next 10, according to the International Energy Agency. 

McCoy Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, Calif.
NextEra Energy

McCoy Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, Calif.

The McCoy Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, Calif., is expected to be the largest solar power plant in the world when completed over the next two years. The McCoy Plant will boast 750MW of capacity, or enough energy to power about 225,000 homes.

Approved last spring, with construction expected next year, the project will include 516,000 individual solar panels across 7,700 acres of land. The majority of the project will be developed on public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management and will be completed in two phases.

The plant will be located about 13 miles northwest of Blythe, Calif. and will be owned and operated by McCoy Solar, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resouces. (The photo is of the Arcadia solar plant in DeSoto County, Fla. also built by NextEra).

The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in Riverside County, Calif.
NextEra Energy

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in Riverside County, Calif.

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is tied with Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County as being the largest operational solar plant on Earth. The facility generates 550MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power. The project was built on 3,600 acres of land in the Chuckwalla Valley in Riverside County, Calif.

Developed by First Solar and co-owned by NextEra Energy Resources, GE Energy Financial Services and and Sumitomo Corp. of America, the plant can power 170,000 homes. The project provides enough clean energy to displace 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year -- the equivalent to taking 60,000 cars off the road.

The project benefited from a federal loan of almost $1.5 billion.

A closer look at the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm
NextEra Energy

Desert Sunlight Solar Plant

A closer look at the Desert Sunlight Solar Plant gives you some idea of what eight million PV panels might look like... becuase that's how many the plant contains.

The Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.
First Solar

The Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.

The Topaz Solar Farm, which was also built by First Solar, has 550MW of capacity and can power up to 160,000 homes.

The plant cost $2.5 billion to build and it is now owned BHE Renewables, who sells electricity to PG&E. The plant contains eight million cadmium telluride photovoltaic modules based on thin-film technology. Thin-film photovoltaics cost significantly less than conventional solar cells, which are made with crystalline silicon.

Ivanpah Solar facility in xxx.

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California's Mojave Desert

Opened in February 2014, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is the world's largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant. Instead of using photovoltaics, which convert solar energy into direct current using semiconductor materials, CSP plants generate electricity in much the same way as conventional fossil fuel power plants -- without the fossil fuels.

At the Ivanpah Solar Plant, more than 300,000 software-controlled mirrors track the sun in two dimensions and reflect the sunlight to boilers that sit atop three 459-ft tall towers. When the concentrated sunlight strikes boiler pipes on the towers, it heats water to create superheated steam. The steam turns a turbine, creating electricity.

The Ivanpah Solar Plant

Ivanpah Solar facility

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System consists of three solar thermal power plants on 4,000 acres of public land in a dry lake bed in the Ivanpah Valley near the Nevada border. Together, the three plants produce 392MW of power. The plant in this photo is only one of the three.

The Ivanpah project was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel at a cost of  $2.2 billion. The plant received significant fuding from power company NRG Energy ($300 million) and Google ($168 million).

In addition to the money used to build the facility, a total of 152 desert tortoises also had to be relocated from the site prior to the build.

ivanpah solar electric generating system tower credit gilles mingasson slide

Reflected heat makes steam

This is a close-up of one of the Ivanpah towers during steam generation. During steam blows, thousands of heliostats (directional mirrors) are focused on the solar boiler atop the tower to achieve the desired temperatures and pressures.

Solar Star I and II

Solar Star I and II

When completed later this year, the Solar Star facility near Rosamond, Calif. will be the world's largest solar power plant, with 579MW of power capacity. However, it's unlikely to hold that title for long (see McCoy Solar Energy Project).

The plant is made up of two co-located generating facilities, Solar Star I and II. Combined, the Solar Star Plant contains more than 1.7 million photovoltaic panels covering about 4,700 acres across two counties.

Built by MidAmerican Solar and SunPower Corp., the plant will be owned and operated by BHE Renewables, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy owned by Warren Buffet.

When fully online later this year, it will provide enough electricity to power 255,000 average California households. It will also be able to displace about 570,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is the equivalent of taking more than 100,000 cars off the road.

solar plant in madhya pradeshs rewa district

India's 750MW solar plant

Next year, India plans to construct a 750MW solar power plant in the Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh.

The solar plant is being built by the state government as a joint venture with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the Power Grid Corp. and the Solar Energy Corp. of India, a government agency.

Currently, India's largest solar power plant is located in Neemuch district and sports 130MW of capacity.

The new plant is part of a grand plan to expand the country's solar energy 30-fold to 100,000MW over the next seven years.

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