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Agua Caliente, World's Largest Solar Photovoltaic Plant, Helps Advance America's Solar Leadership

April 29, 2014 - 8:40am


Agua Caliente, located in Yuma County, Arizona, is now the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the world. | Photo courtesy of NRG Energy.

Agua Caliente, located in Yuma County, Arizona, is now the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the world. | Photo courtesy of NRG Energy.

The United States has long been known for building at a scale previously never achieved: Hoover Dam was the world’s largest dam when it was completed, Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) was the world’s tallest building for decades and the Library of Congress remains the largest library in the world.

Today we add another innovation to that list, thanks in part to the Department’s Loan Programs Office. The Agua Caliente solar project, owned by NRG Energy, has come online and is now the world’s largest photovoltaic (PV) power plant. This facility has the capacity to generate 290 megawatts (MW) of solar electricity in Yuma County, Arizona. The Department provided a $967 million loan guarantee to the project.

The completion of Agua Caliente represents a series of recent achievements for LPO in bringing large-scale solar energy to Americans. In February, Secretary Moniz and I attended the dedication of Ivanpah, the world’s largest concentrating solar power plant (CSP), which was built with the help of a $1.6 billion Energy Department loan guarantee. Last fall, supported in part by a $1.4 billion loan guarantee, the Solana concentrating solar power plant started delivering “night-time solar” to Arizona homes and businesses as the world’s largest solar facility with thermal storage. And just last week the 250 MW Genesis CSP project, which was issued a $852 million loan guarantee, came online in Riverside County, CA.

These records are even more impressive when compared to where we were prior to 2009. At that time, the largest PV plant in the U.S. was a 14 MW installation at Nellis Air Force Base. A commercial-scale CSP plant had not been built in the U.S. in two decades. But in just five short years, we have increased the scale that PV plants can achieve by twentyfold and we have also made tremendous technological advances in concentrating solar power and thermal storage.

Despite the strong and consistent public demand for greater development of solar energy, these achievements seemed more aspirational than attainable in 2009, given the state of financial markets at the time. However, with the help of loan guarantees, these projects were able to move forward.

We aren’t done yet. By the end of next year, we expect all five solar PV plants in our portfolio to be completed with a combined capacity of 1,510 MW -- enough to power more than a quarter million average American homes.

The Department's loan guarantees have made an impact beyond those first five LPO-financed PV projects. Since those projects were funded, 10 additional PV projects larger than 100 MW have been announced -- all without any Energy Department financing. In 2013, 2,847 MW of utility-scale solar was installed in the U.S., a 58 percent increase over 2012. Since 2010, total solar capacity in the U.S. has increased by an amazing 418 percent.

These results are the essence of what LPO was created to do -- help finance the initial commercial deployment of innovative clean energy technologies and then allow the market to take over.

The U.S. has a long history of leadership in a number of areas. Now, as President Obama said in his State of the Union address, we are becoming a global leader in solar, too.