As promised, here’s a rundown of a couple big solar projects announced this year. The first has actually been in the works for several years now. Arizona-based First Solar has teamed up with China to build what will be the world’s largest solar farm (2 Gigawatts!) in a remote area of Inner Mongolia. Though the deal was first announced in 2009, it wasn’t until earlier this month that the project got a crucial go-ahead from Chinese regulators (approval of a pre-feasibility study and negotiations over what payments the companies would receive for feeding the power to the grid), allowing work to commence. The solar farm will cover 25 square miles and will be built in stages from 2011 through 2020, with the initial stage producing 30 Megawatts. Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Co. will become the majority partner in the deal, giving First Solar the backing of a recognized name in Chinese energy markets (they own 2 nuclear power plants and are constructing 4 more). The two companies will work jointly on the construction phases, however, the thin-film panels will be produced by First Solar’s Malaysia plant, avoiding the necessity of turning over company trade secrets. This is good news for American alternative energy companies looking to get a foothold in the growing and ultra-competitive Chinese renewables market, one that’s traditionally been quite difficult to navigate in a way that satisfies both company interests and Chinese regulations.
Next up, here on American soil, 2011 welcomes the construction of Solexant’s new manufacturing plant in Gresham, Oregon (already home to the states largest ground-mounted solar array in the Northwest), one that upon completion will be the world’s largest nanotechnology manufacturing facility. As with the China deal above, Oregon and California-based Solexant announced the deal last year, but until this year’s construction is complete, Solexant will operate out of an existing plant, where they will manufacture their proprietary ultra thin film solar cells using a roll to roll printing process developed in conjunction with the DoE Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. This process uses deposition of nanocrystal inks on a flexible substrate, producing a cell which is both flexible and amazingly thin. First phase development promises to produce enough panels to create 100MW of energy, enough to power about 10,000 homes, and once completed, Solexant plans to add more 100MW production lines. The venture has received funding/loans and tax credits from the Oregon Department of Energy in return for bringing the state the potential of more than a thousand new jobs over time.
If these two projects are any indication, 2011 promises to be a huge year for solar, here’s to hoping that the trend continues!