Spread across a hillside pasture amid olive trees, 52,000 shimmering photovoltaic modules in one of the world’s largest solar power plants have begun generating enough electricity for 8,000 homes, GE, PowerLight Corp. and Catavento SA announced today.
After eight months of construction and testing, GE Energy Financial Services, a unit of General Electric, PowerLight, a subsidiary of SunPower Corporation and Catavento dedicated the 11-megawatt Serpa solar power plant today, on schedule.
The facility — a model of clean power generation integrated with agriculture — is in one of Europe’s sunniest areas, in Portugal’s Alentejo agricultural region in the town of Serpa, 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of Lisbon.
GE Energy Financial Services financed and purchased the project in an approximately US $75 million transaction last year. PowerLight, a leading global solar power system provider, designed, deployed, operates and maintains the plant.
The plant uses PowerLight’s innovative PowerTracker(R) system that follows the sun’s daily path across the sky to generate more electricity than conventional fixed-mounted systems.
Catavento, a leading Portuguese renewable energy company, developed and manages the project, which began feeding Portugal’s electricity grid in late January.
Kevin Walsh, Managing Director and leader of renewable energy at GE Energy Financial Services, said today at a dedication ceremony in Serpa: “This project is successful because Portugal’s sunshine is plentiful, the solar power technology is proven, government policies are supportive, and we are investing and delivering under GE’s ecomagination initiative to help our customers meet their environmental challenges.
“Added Andrew Marsden, Managing Director of GE Energy Financial Services’ European Operations: “The Serpa project is a springboard for other solar power investments we’re pursuing in Europe through project acquisitions, project finance, development capital and access to solar modules through GE Energy.”
PowerLight CEO Tom Dinwoodie noted: “The Serpa solar power plant speaks to the green power initiatives now setting Europe on a course toward ambitious emissions reductions goals. By assembling a first-class team of companies in the solar arena, we’ve achieved a remarkable renewable energy milestone.”
Generating electricity from the sun with no fuel costs or emissions, the Serpa plant is on a 60-hectare (150-acre) hillside, equivalent to the area of more than 80 football fields.
The project supports a European Union initiative by saving more than 30,000 tons a year in greenhouse gas emissions compared to equivalent fossil fuel generation. The EU this month agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020, from 1990 levels.
Portugal relies heavily on imported fossil fuels, and its carbon dioxide emissions have increased 34 percent since 1990, among the fastest rates in the world. To address this, the country is implementing some of the world’s most advanced incentives for installing renewable energy.
The Serpa project relies on a preferential tariff mandated by the Portuguese government. Solar power enjoys widespread support in Portugal, with the backing of 77 percent of the population, according to a European Commission study published in January.
At today’s ceremony, a 3.7 million euro (US $4.8 million) contract was signed for a grant to the project under the Portuguese government’s Economic Modernization Program.
Piero Dal Maso, co-CEO of Catavento, said the project “serves as a beacon to the world to show how to overcome challenges of scale and complexity.” Added co-CEO Rui Pimenta: “We hope the government will clear remaining roadblocks so solar power can truly radiate across Portugal.”
Construction of the Serpa project began in June 2006 and was completed as planned in January 2007. The facility consists of a ground-mounted photovoltaic system that uses silicon solar cell technology to convert sunlight directly into energy. The Serpa solar power plant incorporates photovoltaic modules from SunPower, Sanyo, Sharp and Suntech – SunPower Corporation.