Alamosa Solar Generating Plant, world's largest CPV up and running

That Alamosa Solar Generating Plant, a 30 megawatt concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) power plant in Alamosa, Colo., which is owned by Cogentrix Energy, is now fully operational. And it’s the largest CPV facility in the world.

It’s quite a jump up in scale for a CPV system. Until this array there were just a few solar installations that broke the megawatt mark and even fewer, if any that broke the 10 megawatt barrier. “We are very pleased to be first with this technology and we hope to it continues to operate as it has and we will continue to push to move the technology forward,” said Cogentrix spokesperson Jef Freeman.

The system, in Colorado’s high-altitude San Luis Valley, was brought online last month, according to Freeman. “We had a contractual obligation to be in commercial operation in April and we did that,” he said. The facility is now supplying electricity to Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, under a power-purchase agreement.

Xcel and Cogentrix took about a month to test the system and make sure it is performing to expectations. Everything is performing to expectations, according to Freeman.

It consists of over 500 dual-axis CPV Amonix 7700 tracker assemblies. The system was built on a 225-acre plot. Each tracker is 70 feet wide and 50 feet tall. Each has 7,560 Fresnel lenses that concentrate sunlight by a multiple of 500 onto multijunction gallium arsenide photovoltaic cells.

Most solar produces about 7 megawatts to 8 megawatts per acre, but CPV promises slightly more per acre than other PV technologies. “It might have saved us a little property. That’s one of the reasons we went this way, because we had a very limited footprint [we could use],” Freeman said. Still, “It’s relatively the same acreage output as other solar technology.”

Now that the first such plant is operational more could be on their way as an alternative to traditional solar photovoltaic installations. Cogentrix could even pursue other such contracts. “If a circumstance presented itself to where the technology would be appropriate, by all means we would look at it again,” Freeman said.

Image courtesy of Amonix