The largest operational PV project in the world can now supply 250 MW to the grid. This is the peak generating capacity, but that will increase to 290 MW when it is completed. The power plant is in Yuma County, Arizona.
Solar power generation is a bit difficult to understand because it varies. One moment, the plant may generate 100 MW, and then the next, it could generate 220 watts. The peak generation capacity is what the solar panels are capable of generating, and sometimes they do actually generate that much.
The peak generation capacity is what you would get on a bright sunny day (which is not uncommon in that location).
What is most relevant to everyone is how much the solar panels generate on average. This is determined using capacity factor measurements. The capacity factor of a power plant is what fraction of its nameplate electricity generation capacity it generates on average.
For solar power plants, it varies by country, and in large countries like the United States, it varies significantly by state. Capacity factors range from about 15% to 50%. The United States has a capacity factor range of 14% for fixed solar panels in Seattle, all the way up to 33% in Pheonix, Arizona with 2-axis tilt panels.
This means that this 250-MW plant would generate an average of at least 35 MW in Seattle (0.14 x 250), or an average of at least 82.5 MW in Phoenix, Arizona (0.33 x 250) if 2-axis tilt panels were used.
Construction of the Agua Caliente plant began in the fall of 2010 and solar panel installation began in June 2011. The construction of this project is expected to be completed on schedule in 2014.
The project is designed and constructed by First Solar using the company’s own thin-film solar PV panels (usually just called solar panels or PV panels). This is reminiscent of another bit of Arizona solar news this week, SolarCity expanding its Arizona operations. SolarCity offers people solar plans that reduce their electric bills without any upfront cost.