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Published on September 8th, 2012 | by Jake Richardson


100-MW Solar Power Plant for California Central Valley

September 8th, 2012 by  

Kings County, CA will be getting a new 100-MW solar power plant, courtesy of SunPower. The company announced recently it has plans to build one there starting in 2015, with the plant becoming operational by the end of 2016.

SunPower will be using its 435-watt SunPower solar panels and its own SunPower T0 Tracker system to keep the panels facing available sunlight each day. Their sun tracking system is said to increase energy production by about 25% compared with fixed solar panel systems.

“We are very pleased to be working again with PG&E to deliver cost-competitive solar power at a 100 megawatt scale, while creating jobs and economic opportunity for the local community,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower President, Regions.

One source says this 100-MW solar plant will generate enough electricity to power 36,000 homes. However, the Consumer Energy Center says one megawatt is enough to power 1,000 homes. (It appears the source was using 360 homes per megawatt to calculate the total number of homes powered.)

There seems to be a wide variation in the average number homes believed to be powered by one megawatt of power. For example, in Texas, a solar project was said to have the capacity to power 127 homes per MW, 167, or 700.

For the Central Valley project, another source said the 36,000 homes powered figure came from Pacific Gas and Electric. Hopefully, this number is accurate — they are a leading utility company, so it would be a little surprising if they didn’t know these scenarios.

Over seventy million dollars is expected to be added to the Kings County economy, and about 200 jobs for the construction phase. The unemployment rate in the county was reported to be over seventeen percent in April of 2012.

Image Credit: Jake Richardson

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  • transam98

    Question, how much electricity will one of your beautiful solar farms produce at say MIDNIGHT?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Depends on how much of it was put into storage for use at midnight.

      Now, don’t you feel stupid for asking that question?

      You should….

      • transam98

        Gee, guess I’m not as smart as all you brain washed OBAMITES

        • Bob_Wallace

          Well, stick around and read. You stand to learn some.

          You might even learn who has been helping you and who’s been shafting you. But best you don’t make more off topic comments like this or you will have only the option to read.

  • Howard-Seattle

    I think “average” consumption over a 24 hour period is not really representative of a community’s need for power. The measurement should focus on “peak” consumption, because if “peak” consumption is not met, then there is not enough power for everyone to use at the time they expect to use it. Interesting discussion on measurements and the lack of consistency. Bravo!

  • the comments below made me laugh. made me realize how geeky this site’s readership is. to be honest, this conversation has occurred countless times. the bottom line is, these projects are announced in MW. there are general estimates of how many houses 1 MW could power (of course, at its theoretical maximum). it’s not what the plant will actually power over time. and, to be honest, it’s not like electricity from one power plant goes directly to one house. it goes into the ocean of the grid, and the grid then sends electricity out.

  • anderlan

    1MW per 1000 homes would be 1kW per house, or 24kWh per day per house, which is ample.

    You see, 1kW isn’t enough for a house all the time, but 24kWh at a rate up to 5-10kW at certain times, is ample.

    100MW is enough for 100,000 homes at the most ideal moment when the plant is putting out 100% and the houses together pull exactly their average load (not peak, not a hair above median).

    But a 100MW plant doesn’t produce that rate of power all the time. A 100MW plant is enough for 36,000 homes all the time, supposing that there is a perfect, very very large storage system to match demand and the plant’s output.

  • OPPS… 1I made an error in my own math !!!
    Line three should say 100,000 kW DIRECT CURRENT
    Line nine should also say 100,000 kW DIRECT CURRENT.
    Pesky 0s !
    – Gus

  • Guest

    Gents –
    I think your math isn’t right.
    The Project is 100 MW DIRECT CURRENT.
    This is equivalent to 100,000 kW DIRECT CURRENT.
    I don’t know what the “load factor” is, but I do know that
    every locale has a Solar Factor what converts Direct Current
    watts into ALTERNATING CURRENT watt-hours. In this
    part of California, the Solar Factor appears to be 1939.
    100,000 kW dc = 193,900,000 kWhs ac.
    SunPower’s technology claims a 30% above-average efficiency.
    So, 193,900,000 kWhs x 130% = 252,070,000 kWhs.
    A “typical” home in California is said to consume 7,000 kWhs ac per year, so: 252,070,000 kWhs/yr divided by 7,000 kWhs/yr = 36,010 homes.
    Note that no home on the planet consumes 7,000 MEGA WATTS of any kind of electricity per year. Maybe 1,000 homes do…
    The key problem in this article (and many others I read) is a confusion between DC and AC electricity. Most newspaper reporters don’t know the difference, and they get it all wrong.
    When you hear someone say “The project will be 55 Mega Watts”, you don’t really know how much electricity it will produce! All you know is that the DESIGN calls for a system with a capacity (or “nameplate”) of 55 MWs dc. If it’s located in southern Cailifornia, it’ll produce some 90,000 kWhs ac per year to be put on the grid for consumpotion. It it’s located on the north pole, it may produce 10,000 kWhs ac per year. Design capacity doesn’t equal actual output.
    Just trying to help. Please correct me if needed. Gus Escher (see LinkedIn).

    • Pete

      Actually, the output of this plant is stated by SunPower as 100 MW AC.

    • bob

      100mw is 100,000,000watts

  • Luke

    I’ve never been a fan of the “or x amount of homes” measurement for this reason. What constitutes a home? Does a home have 1 person, or 2 parents and 4 kids? Wealthy upper class suburb with fountains and lights? Or poor suburb with not enough money to run a heater to keep a family warm?

    Megawatts. Keep it simple people. We have a unit of power. Megawatts.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I doubt many people see MWh and have any idea what it means. Even though I read clean tech stuff every day I have to go through the process of translating 100 MWhs into how long that would run my house.

      When I see something written as “3,000” houses I immediately go “9,000 “me-houses””. (I conserve and I don’t need AC.)

      I think most people have a rough idea of how normal/abnormal their electricity usage is, they can do a rough scale up/down given a measurement meaningful in their lives.

      The large role of this site, IMHO, is to search out promising technology – stuff that is likely to actually work – and inform the general public about it. Part of each article needs to be about communicating to the general reader. And part, I hope, takes the rest of us a little deeper into the topic.

      • Luke

        Thanks for your input Bob. I wasn’t criticizing the article or the site, but rather advocating/wishing for the expanded use of units with strict numerical values and definitions.

        Similar to how I absolutely detest light bulb brightness being rated in Watts, when in fact it should be Lumens…

        • Bob_Wallace

          I agree. I think we should be talking about new installations in terms of output capacity, not nameplate capacity. But at the same time we need to do so in a way that the casual reader can grasp.

    • RobS

      A megawatt of solar produces a completely different amount of energy then 1Mw of wind, NG, coal or nuclear, making such a measure quite useless as a comparison of useful power generated. We could use Mwh but I think average homes is a reasonably well understood measure for the layperson.

      • Luke

        Nope. A megawatt of power IS EXACTLY the same amount of energy, whether it came from solar, wind, nuclear, or coal.

        What you’re criticizing is the nameplate/rated capacity of these power plants, which is a percentage value of the time the plant is operating for in a given reference time (day, month, year, etc). Solar has a much higher capacity factor than most people believe, and nuclear + coal aren’t immune to having failures either.

        The problem with the ‘average home’ figure is that it can be distorted and twisted to serve an ideology (pro-solar, anti-solar, pro-coal, etc.). It’s not a tangible, numerical value with a sound definition. THAT is the problem.

    • Paco Mcnulty

      You mean Megawatt hours, I believe. Megawatt is a measure of capacity, Megawatt (Mw/h) hour is a measure of production or consumption.
      Luke please don’t keep commenting on this subject (here and below) if you don’t understand the subject. You are confusing people. RobS is absolutely correct when he says a plant with a MW of capacity can produce a very variable amount of output.
      To be fair, the author of this mediocre article doesn’t seem to understand this distinction either. The developer/owner obviously issued a press release using the simplest term possible (Megawatts) and the author doesn’t know enough about the subject to understand it clearly.

      • Luke

        I have a much better understanding of the concept than you do, Paco. You clearly don’t have a sound grip on what a Megawatt is. It’s basic Physics/Mechanics.

        A megawatt is a unit of POWER. 1 Watt is equal to 1 Joule per second, or Volts * Amps, therefore power is energy over time.

        It is NOT defined as a unit of capacity, however, it is used as one – the plant’s nameplate capacity (or the theoretical maximum a power plant can produce. Therefore the figure of “x number of homes” is based off the instantaneous power an average home would use.

        Megawatt Hours measure total production or consumption like you say – but you have the symbol wrong. It is not “Mw/h”, which is Megawatts PER hour, but rather MWh.

  • Pete

    Jake, the California Energy Commission is talking about 1 megawatt of power meeting the needs of 1,000 homes at a moment in time. This is based on a simple calculation, as the link notes, of 0.5 load factor and a 2 kW peak for each home. 2 kW x 0.5 = 1 kW per home. But this is at a moment in time. What’s more important — and what PG&E is referring to with the 36,000 figure — is an estimate of how much power the 100 MW solar plant will produce in the course of a year, and how many homes’ power demand that will meet. To figure this out, we need to know the size of the power plant, its capacity factor, and the average annual household energy demand. We know this is planned as a 100 MW plant. We also know that with its tracking technology, SunPower has in the past claimed a capacity factor of around 30 percent, higher than typical for solar PV. Based on this, we can estimate that the 100 MW plant would produce 262,800 megawatt-hours of power in a year. The average California home uses about 7 MWh of power a year (less than the national average of 10 MWh). So: 262,800 MWh divided by 10 MWh = 37,542. So there’s (approximately; they might have used slightly different inputs) where that 36,000 figure comes from.

    • Pete

      excuse me, that should say “262,800 MWh divided by 7 MWh”

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