5 Super-Sized Solar Energy Projects Transforming the Clean Energy Landscape

2012 marked a record year for America’s solar industry. Installations surged by 76 percent compared to 2011 — representing an estimated market value of $11.5 billion. From commercial to residential, every sector experienced significant growth, but the clear standout of 2012 was utility-scale solar.

Utility-scale solar projects are designed to generate massive amounts of electricity. Unlike other sectors, the electricity generated by utility-scale projects is sold directly to wholesale utility buyers. In the recently released U.S. Solar Market Insight report, GreenTech Media and SEIA found that the utility-scale sector grew by an unprecedented 134 percent last year — with eight of the largest solar projects in America starting operation.

Many of these projects were supported by investments from the Energy Department’s Loan Guarantee Program. These investments — in several of the world’s largest solar generation facilities — help to lower the cost of financing and accelerate the completion of transformative clean energy projects. Here are the utility-scale projects that came online last year as part of the loan program portfolio.

Agua Caliente Phase I-IV

With 287 MW of generation capacity online, Agua Caliente is one of the nation’s largest utility scale photovoltaic solar generation facilities.  Situated on 2,400 acres of land in Yuma County, Arizona, it will provide enough clean, renewable electricity to power nearly 50,000 homes every year.

In addition to creating about 1,400 local jobs at peak construction, Agua Caliente continues to provide economic opportunities for area businesses — from engineering and design firms, to suppliers and service providers. The project will use approximately 4.89 million thin film solar panels.

Alamosa Solar

In Colorado, the Alamosa Solar project is breaking records as the largest high-concentration solar facility in the world. The solar panels used at the facility are controlled by a tracking system that rotates and tilts the panels throughout the day to capture as much of the sun’s energy as possible. The innovative system is also highly-efficient — using Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight by a multiple of 500 onto multijunction solar cells.

Successfully beginning operation last May, Alamosa produces enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 5,100 homes and avoid the emissions of 34,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. More than 80 percent of the components for the solar facility are manufactured in the United States.

Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One

About 80 miles north of Los Angeles, the first phase of the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch facility is complete. Once fully operational, the Solar Ranch’s annual capacity will more than double to 230 MW — supplying enough energy to the grid to power about 75,000 homes. The project — which employed about 900 workers at construction peak — uses approximately 30,000 metric tons of American steel.

When operational later this year, the facility will displace nearly 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually — equivalent to the emissions of at least 60,000 vehicles. The project is projected to serve the energy needs of 42,700 Southern California homes every year.

Mesquite Solar 1

Located in Maricopa County, Arizona, Mesquite Solar 1 taps into 300 days of sunshine each year to generate about 124 MW of clean electricity. The success of Mesquite Solar has been a boon to the surrounding community — creating nearly 530 jobs during peak construction. Key components for the solar installation were manufactured in America — including inverters manufactured in Colorado.

With the first phase of the Mesquite Solar project complete, the next phase will focus on the development of the remaining 4,000 acre solar complex. The team is on track to operate more than 1000 MW of renewable energy capacity by the end of 2013.

California Valley Solar Ranch Phase I-IV

Sunny, expansive San Luis Obispo marks the ideal location for the California Valley Solar Ranch. Once fully complete, the Solar Ranch will reach a total generation capacity of 250 MW — enough energy to power the equivalent of almost every home in San Luis Obispo County. According to the project sponsor, the facility is expected to inject $315 million into the local economy, and is estimated to generate $10 million in total tax revenues.

At their current capacities, these utility-scale projects are generating about 631 MWdc of clean electricity — enough to power about 108,000 American homes. Follow the progress of these projects and learn about our other clean energy investments by visiting the Loan Guarantee Program Office site.