Top 10 solar PV power plants

Paul Boughton
Solarplaza, the independent global platform for knowledge, trade missions and events related to solar energy, has released a new Top 10 overview listing the largest Solar PV power plants in the world.

Key findings: The world's biggest single solar PV project is located in Canada and is 92 megawatts in size. Eight out of the ten biggest solar PV projects are located in Europe. Within the larger Top 30 this number is twenty-six, with most plants located in Germany, followed by Spain and then Italy. The cumulative capacity of the Top 10 largest PV projects is 648 MW. For the whole Top 30 that number is 1.3 GW.

All the way back in 1995, a 3.3 megawatt ground-based solar PV power plant was connected to the grid in Serre, Italy. At that time the world’s largest PV system, it was built as a demonstration project and financed through various subsidies.

It would take almost a decade for the market for bigger PV projects to really take off.

When the German Feed-In Tariff started to flourish in 2004, dozens of power plants of 1 MW or more were built in Germany and a new record was set with the connection of a 5 MW plant near Espenhain. Just a year later, the record had already been reset, by a new power plant in Bavaria that boasted double this capacity, with 10 MW.

This situation of German dominance would drastically change in 2007, when the Spanish came on the scene and changed the game. It turned out to be a good year, with several German and Spanish plants above the 10 MW mark, but development grew ever faster and faster. Fuelled by the Spanish FIT law, large-scale power plant developments gained rocket speed in 2008, resulting in four power plants of over 40 MW and one at a whopping 60 MW in Olmedilla. The Government’s Feed-In law resulted in large-scale development of PV projects. Of the eight entries into the Top 30 in 2008, six were built in Spain.

Although an outsider might think that it would make more sense to equip large plants with high-efficiency crystalline modules, less efficient thin film technology entered the arena in 2009 – never to leave it again. 2009 saw two new +50 MW projects completed (Strasskirchen and Lieberose, both in Germany), including one using cadmium telluride thin film modules. The growing importance of thin film becomes very clear when we take into account that, in total, nine of the projects in the Top 30 were built with cad tel technology. A remarkable addition to that statement is that all of these modules were manufactured and supplied by First Solar, yet again confirming their position as market leader in thin film technology.

In 2010, large-scale power plants seemed to be shooting from the ground like mushrooms. This year, however, they weren’t just popping up in established markets such as Germany and Spain, but also sprang from American, Italian, Czech and even Canadian soil. Fifteen of the plants in the Top 30 were connected in this year, including the record-holding 92 MW Sarnia project in Canada, the 83 MW Finsterwalde project in Germany, and the 70 MW Rovigo project in Italy.

Although 2011 is far from over, it is unlikely that it will see the same results as those of 2010.  However, this year’s two entries in the Top 30, the 45 MW Köthen project in Germany and the massive 84 MW Montalto di Castro project in Italy, are not to be overlooked and provide a positive forecast for things to come.

Anyone who says that solar PV is not yet a proven technology is invited to take a look at the overview of existing large-scale power plants throughout the world. And do not forget that behind each project there are investors, installers, banks, engineers, consultants and many more experts involved who made this happen. Through sheer drive, these involved people and companies are keen to prove that they can do better, faster, bigger and cheaper next time around. While most of the larger PV plants are still to be found in Germany and Spain (claiming, respectively, nine and seven of the spots in the Top 30), the emergence of projects in countries such as Canada and France shows us that the balance might be shifting, meaning that we can expect to see more large-scale projects in upcoming markets.

The development of large-scale projects will fuel industry consolidation and will distinguish the men from the boys in this industry. Only the real big bankable companies will be able to guarantee a continuous supply of these large amounts of modules. And these companies will compete heavily for these projects - they guarantee their base load manufacturing capacity, and take a lot less sales and acquisition time than selling 30,000 systems at the same volume to households.

Table: Reported capacities from North American plants were converted from AC to DC for the purpose of honest comparison
Note: This table was first published on August 2, 2011 (Companies that feel they should be included in this list are invited to contact us and provide the public information source).

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