They shall beat their swords into thin-film solar power plants

Lieberose Solar Farm, Germany

Lieberose Solar Farm, Germany

When German officials ceremoniously placed the 560,000th solar panel onto its frame at the Lieberose solar power plant on August 20, the crowd applauded for several reasons. The most obvious reason to celebrate was the fact that by adding that single panel, the 53 MW Lieberose had become the second largest solar power plant in the world (the largest is a 60 MW plant in Olmedilla, Spain ).

But it was also a happy moment for First Solar, the Tempe, Arizona-based manufacturer of the thin-film PV panels. The global economic slowdown has hit the solar industry hard. Even in this business environment, First Solar and it’s partner in the venture, Juwi Holding, AG, managed to keep the project on track. The solar facility should begin generating electricity later this year, when all 700,000 panels are in place.

Finally, Lieberose goes beyond the normal call of “clean energy” duty. Company officials estimate that the plant will generate enough electricity to meet the needs of some 15,000 households, while reducing the amount of CO2 produced by 35,000 tons annually. In addition, the project is built on a former Russian army base on land littered with live munitions and chemical waste. The solar partners used metal detectors to sweep the area and recovered hundreds of shells, like the one in the inset picture above.

While some experts believe that solar thermal plants will be the large-scale generators of choice in the future, the Lieberose project shows that thin-film power plants, which are much cheaper to produce than the traditional Silicon-based PV variety, are viable now. And don’t count on thin-film going away anytime soon.

At First Solar headquarters in Tempe earlier today, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the representatives of the Chinese government to build a giant solar power plant — using thin-film PV — in Inner Mongolia. That plant, which will be completed in phases over the next decade, will have a 2 gigawatt capacity — more than three times as much power as produced by the largest installation now in service.

For more information, see First Solar’s website.

For more on Juwi Holding, AG, see their English language site.

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