Harvesting solar energy is a really big deal! Every year the earth absorbs so much solar energy that if we captured it all, we could power America 40,000 times over again. That’s a lot of energy, and countries are starting to warm up to the potential of this fantastic renewable resource.
Of course it helps that in the past five years the price of solar power has dropped by 75% percent. This price drop has given lots of countries the opportunity to begin investing heavily in the technology. This made 2014 a record breaking year, as 9% of all energy generated in the world came from solar resources.
In order to make that happen, some countries have started building really big solar stations. These massive solar farms produce enough energy to heat thousands of homes and they often cover an area the size of a small village. Lets take a look at some of the largest solar stations in the world today.
Nyngan Solar Farm, Australia
This huge solar installation uses 1,350,000 thin-film solar cell panels to generate electricity. These panels are less efficient than others on the market, but they make up for that by being less expensive.
In total, this station generates 155 MW of electricity. That’s enough energy to power 33,000 homes every year. It’s also the same as taking 53,000 cars off of the road. The Nyngan solar farm is a great example of a renewable resources project that can help make a country less dependent on oil and other fossil fuels.
Landmead Solar Farm, The UK
Landmead is the largest solar farm in the UK. The plant generates 46 MW which is enough energy to power 14,000 homes. One of the interesting aspects of this project is the minimal effect it has on the environment.
Instead of building this solar farm on a field used for farming, this entire installation was constructed on land that is used for grazing animals. That means this large installation didn’t disrupt any agriculture, as the animals can still graze on the land.
Like the Nyngan plant, Landmead also uses thin film solar panels. These panels work together to displace 20 million KGs of greenhouse gas every year. While this is the largest plant in the UK, it won’t stay that way for long. Soon Norfolk is going to build a plant that generates 49.9 MW, which will make it the new largest solar farm in the UK.
Meuro Solar Plant, Germany
The Meuro Solar Plant won the Solar Project of the year award in 2012. This award is presented by POWER-GEN International, and recognizes that a project is efficient and well designed. It’s a big deal because the Meuro power plant beat out over 40 other entrants to claim this prize. This plant was built in cooperation with Canadian solar, which is a world leader in the production of solar panels.
The Meuro plant was built on a former lignite (brown coal) mine and is made out of 306,000 unique modules. With a 166 MW capacity, it generates enough power for 17,500 households. That’s equivalent to a reduction of 52,000 tons of carbon every year.
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, The USA
Last, but not least, is the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. With a staggering yearly capacity of 392 MW, this is the world’s largest solar power station. It’s located in the Mojave desert in California, which is sunny year round with only occasional cloud cover. That makes it the perfect location for this massive facility, which takes up more than 16 square kilometres.
Instead of using traditional solar panels, the Ivanpah facility actually uses a concentrated thermal technology. Thousands of mirrors reflect the sunlight and direct it up towards one of three large towers. These towers absorb that sunlight and use it to drive a steam heat engine, which produces electricity.
Greenpeace has estimated that with proper development, this energy source could supply 25% of the world’s energy needs by 2050. However, with the large price drop in regular solar panels, this technology is unlikely to be heavily used in the future. At the moment though, this gigantic solar station is producing energy at the same price as fossil fuels, which is good news for the planet!