Published on January 18th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer18
First Solar Begins Operation of Largest Thin-Film PV Plant in California
First Solar’s utility-scale PV plant has now been quietly up and running, in Blythe, California, for its first full month. Once it got a go-ahead in the summer this project only took three months to build.
Perhaps its relatively smaller size for utility-scale solar holds a key to its success in getting off the ground. Unlike the 250 MW solar trough technologies that are held up in reviews, this project is a modest 21 MW.
PG&E just inked a new deal with First Solar this month, placing an order for the next size up: 48 MW, suggesting that incremental steps are the way to get more solar on the grid in California. The original application with the CPUC had been for a very unassuming 7 MW. With the option to go larger.
PV plants tend not to be as ambitious in scope as utility-scale solar thermal technologies because they are more expensive. This 21 MW thin-film project is so far the biggest PV plant yet built in California.
The First Solar project uses their own advanced thin-film PV, though, that is made of cadmium telluride and is much cheaper than regular PV. This means that it has the same potential as solar thermal technologies to scale up. They have plans to build two more projects in California in the 250 – 300 MW range.
Thin-film is both cheaper and less “efficient” than PV, which is not to be construed as meaning that it doesn’t work very well. One megawatt of PV makes exactly the same power as one megawatt of thin-film. It merely means that it will take a larger area of thin-film to produce the same energy as a smaller PV module.
However, that lower “efficiency” of thin-film tends to go along with lower degradation over time as well, so thin-film is a good long-term investment. Unlike PV which might be 12% less efficient in 25 years (so it can no longer be warrantied at the same output that it was originally rated at ) thin-film keeps on chugging away.
Southern California Edison has signed a 20-year purchase power agreement for the energy it will produce.
Image: First Solar