Big-numbered solar

Solana CSP

Solana starts commercial operation, Topaz crosses the five-million module mark, SolarCity plops down big bucks for Zep, a grand solar day in the life of German renewable generation

Hundreds of megawatts (and gigawatt-hours), millions of panels, tens and hundreds of millions of dollars: increasingly, the numbers undergirding and enveloping the solar narrative can get really big—and keep getting bigger. Some days, several big-numbered stories can plop into the solar content curation pot. Today happens to be one of those days, as a fecund foursome of news reports provides more than ample fare.

The first of what will be several concentrating solar power plant commissionings this year took place earlier this week, as the 280MW Solana Generating Station passed final testing and started commercial operation on Oct. 7. Not only is the $2 billion power plant the largest parabolic-trough CSP site on the planet, but its molten-salt storage capability allows the technological marvel to continue to dispatch solar-generated electricity for hours after the sun goes down. Arizona Public Service is buying the sun-juice from the Gila Bend facility via a 30-year PPA with Abengoa. Solana also represents another success story of the sometimes-maligned U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee program, since the plant received a $1.45 billion monetary backstop that helped facilitate the necessary financing.

Solana may have 2700 parabolic-trough mirrors, but the 550MW (AC) Topaz Solar Farm in eastern San Luis Obispo county (CA) will have more than 8 million CdTe thin-film solar modules deployed when it’s completed. Project owner MidAmerican Solar said that Topaz has passed the 5 million mark, and that the EPC team from First Solar should have the plant completed by early 2015. PG&E has inked a 25-year PPA to receive the power from Topaz. Via the already completed power blocks, the generation station is already transmitting electricity to the utility’s grid—another one of the modularity and rapid scalability benefits of big solar PV.

On the residential side of the PV market continuum, a major acquisition has many industry watchers in a tizzy. SolarCity announced that it is buying Zep Solar and its innovative solar mounting system technology for $158 million of SCTY’s strongly valued stock. SolarCity’s move into the balance-of-systems hardware arena took some by surprise. As Eric Wesoff of Greentech Media smirked in his incisive post, “I should have seen it coming,” a remark based on quarterly analyst call comments earlier this year by SolarCity cofounder Peter “don’t call me Lyndon” Rive that alluded to the “step-function change” coming in the form of “the movement away from rail-based installation hardware to installation hardware that doesn’t depend on the rail” (AKA the Zep scheme). The acquisition follows SolarCity’s nine-figure pickup of lead-origination masters Paramount Solar a few months back, thus prompting the question: have we seen the last of SCTY’s buying spree?

Finally from Germany, the reigning champ of solar power generation, come the latest mind-blowing data demonstrating how profoundly PV impacts the German grid. Solar Server reports on the latest analysis of EEX data from renewables consultant and numbers-cruncher Bernard Chabot. Earlier this month—shortly before noon on Oct. 3 to be precise–solar and wind power provided 59.1% of the hourly electricity produced, while generating 36.4% (436GWh!) of the total electricity for the entire day. At peak output during that sunny and windy day, the combined clean energy sources reached 34.6 GW; the individual peaks were 20.5GW (PV) and 16.6GW (wind)—some pretty big numbers indeed.