Technology

World's Largest Solar Farm Goes Online In California

December 1, 2014 | by Justine Alford

Photo credit: First Solar

Another giant solar farm has been constructed on desert lands in California, stealing the title of the largest solar plant in the world. The farm, which is called Topaz, recently went online after its final 40-megawatt phase was completed, making it the first 500-plus megawatt solar plant to be up and running in the US.

Located in San Luis Obispo County on California’s Carrizo Plain, Topaz consists of a whopping nine million solar panels sprawling across 9.5 square miles of land. This sets it apart from the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California’s Mojave Desert, which creates energy by directing sunlight towards a central boiler using thousands of mirrors. While it generates a lot of green energy, the Ivanpah farm has received a lot of criticism because the intense sunlight has been scorching wildlife, in particular birds. Topaz, however, does not use mirrors but photovoltaic solar panels instead.  

Construction of the $2.5 billion project began two years ago, but it wasn’t anticipated to be finished until early next year. The company behind the project, First Solar, said that the plant should generate 550 megawatts, which is enough to supply around 160,000 average homes. What’s more, it will also displace 377,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Topaz’s location was chosen after proximity to existing electrical transmission lines, land use and environmental sensitivities were all taken into consideration. According to First Solar, the farm is located on “disturbed farm land” with limited productivity, miles away from the more sensitive areas in the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Topaz might hold the title for the world’s largest solar farm at the moment, but it will be overtaken possibily as early as next year when the Solar Star plant achieves full capacity, which should generate almost 580 megawatts. Both Solar Star and Topaz are owned by MidAmerican Solar.

[Via Tech Xplore, io9, Green Tech Media and Tech Spot]

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