Work has just begun on the construction of the world's largest solar photovoltaic power plant in Portugal. When it is switched on in early 2007, the 11 megawatt plant will produce enough electricity to power 8,000 homes and save over 30,000 tonnes a year in greenhouse gas emissions.
The 60 hectare site is located on a south-facing hillside at Serpa in southern Portugal, one of the sunniest areas in Europe. Delivery of the 52,000 photovoltaic modules is already underway, and work has started on an electric substation. Once the site is ready, it will also continue to be used as farmland; grazing sheep will ensure that the ground underneath the panels does not become overgrown and present a fire hazard.
The photovoltaic modules in the installation will use the latest in sun tracking technology developed by PowerLight, the company chosen to design and operate the plant. PowerLight's innovative PowerTracker system enables the panels, which are mounted on stands 1.5 metres high, to follow the sun throughout the day, making them on average 30 per cent more efficient than traditional, fixed mount systems. PowerLight also built what is currently the largest solar plant in the world, the 10 Megawatt Bavaria Solarpark in Mühlhausen, Germany.
The project is the brainchild of Catavento, a leading Portuguese renewable energy company which operates a number of wind farms in both Portugal and Brazil and will also manage the Serpa site. 'The Serpa solar power project, along with other renewable energy initiatives, helps lay the foundation for Portugal's energy future,' said Piero dal Maso, co-CEO of Catavento. The plant is expected to be Portugal's first large photovoltaic power installation to go online; with its high levels of sunshine, Portugal has a high potential for photovoltaic energy, and Catavento hopes that the Serpa project will be the first of many solar power plants in the country.
The facility is owned by international energy giant, GE Energy Financial Services, which is financing the project to the tune of EUR 58.7 million. 'This investment is a major step for GE Energy Financial Services, not only because this is the world's largest solar photovoltaic plant, but also because it's our first solar power project in Europe and puts us close to the USD 1 billion mark in our global renewable energy portfolio,' said Alex Urquhart, President and CEO of GE Energy Financial Services.
Local people are apparently enthusiastic about the project. 'In Portugal the sun often brings problems like droughts,' explained Mr dal Maso. 'This project shows that the sun can also be a blessing.' The project will also be a boost to the local economy, both during construction and afterwards when the plant could act as a showcase, attracting researchers and power company representatives from across Europe.