The Sun in 2015, as viewed in extreme ultraviolet, showing its turbulent surface [Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory]

Huge solar energy farm opens in California desert

One of the largest solar energy farms in the world has opened in Southern California's desert. Capable of providing power for 160,000 homes, the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, is already operating at full capacity and providing 550 megawatts of electricity to the grid, the US Department of the Interior said.

Located in Riverside County, approximately 170 miles (273 km) east of downtown Los Angeles, the farm's official opening on Monday came weeks after California Governor Jerry Brown laid out an ambitious plan for 50 per cent of the state’s electricity to be generated by renewable resources over the next 15 years.

The power generated by the new farm is being provided to Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Southern California Edison under long-term contracts, said the farm's developer, Arizona-based First Solar.

As well as generating enough energy to power 160,000 average homes, the farm also displaces 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent of taking 60,000 cars off the road, the Department of the Interior said.

The farm is located on 4,000 acres (1,619 hectares), managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, and is the sixth solar project opened on US public land since 2009.

The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm was built using photovoltaic technology, which has become less expensive in recent years as scientists develop panels from materials that absorb most of solar spectrum and work in various atmospheric conditions, rather than only in direct sunlight.

To minimise the environmental impact, the Bureau of Land Management was finding “suitable habitat” for desert tortoise and other wildlife impacted by the farm's construction, federal officials said.

Elsewhere in California, another solar energy project is underway in downtown Los Angeles, involving the installation of rooftop solar on existing buildings.

SunEdison, Inc, one of the the world’s largest renewable energy companies, announced its agreement with Los Angeles-based solar developer PermaCity to develop, build and operate 22 megawatts of rooftop solar as part of the Beacon Bundled Solar contract that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) awarded to SunEdison in July 2014.

SunEdison and PermaCity will lease publicly and privately owned roof space in the LADWP service area to fulfill the 22 megawatt commitment. SunEdison will provide financing, high-performance SunEdison solar panels and procurement and engineering expertise for the projects. PermaCity will manage the construction of the projects in cooperation with a SunEdison operations team.

These solar announcements follow the news earlier this month about East Africa’s first large-scale solar plant coming online. An 8.5MW solar power plant built in the shape of the African continent has been constructed in Rwanda, becoming the first utility-scale facility of its kind in east Africa.

The $23.7m Rwanda Field plant, funded through the Power Africa Initiative supported by the US President Barack Obama, represents a major milestone in the initiative’s efforts to improve access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

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