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Spain overtakes U.S. in solar power with La Florida plant

With the opening of the world's largest solar power station, Spain has overtaken the United States as the biggest solar power generator in the world.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

With the opening of the "world's largest solar power station," Spain has overtaken the United States as the biggest solar power generator in the world, according to a new report.

SAMCA's new La Florida parabolic trough solar plant in Alvarado, Badajoz brings Spain's national solar output to 432 megawatts, exceeding America's national total of 422 megawatts, reports The Guardian.

(Author's note: As several educated readers have commented below, the Guardian report is both unclear and incorrect. According to Smithsonian magazine, Spain currently produces about 3.65 gigawatts of solar power, second in the world after Germany. Solar power in Spain represents about 3 percent of the nation's total power. To compare, the U.S. generates less than 1 percent of its energy from solar power. Spain’s solar output is expected to grow to seven gigawatts in the next three years.)

Parabolic trough solar is distinguished by the use of a parabolic mirror that redirects light at a tube filled with liquid, which heats to produce steam power that runs turbines to produce electricity. The mirror rotates over the course of the day to compensate for the sun's movement through the sky.

The La Florida solar farm covers 550,000 square meters (about 77 soccer fields, The Guardian says) and has a capacity of 50 megawatts. It's rated to produce 175,000 megawatt-hours per year of power.

To compare, customers of the Consolidated Edison Company of New York -- the dominant utility in the city -- used 62,062 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2008.

What's more, another 600 megawatts of capacity are slated to come online within the year, according to solar energy association Protermosolar.

The Guardian notes that Spain's total solar power production is now equivalent to the output of one nuclear power station.

Spain, like other European nations such as Germany, has excelled at deploying renewable energy projects thanks to large subsidies for the technologies.

A few facts about Spain's renewable energy industry from the report:

  • It's the third-largest producer of hydro power behind China and the U.S.
  • Spain's wind farms produce about 20,000 megawatts of electricity.
  • Spain receives 340 days of sunshine a year, on average.
  • Last year, solar energy met 2.8 percent of demand in Spain.
  • Spain's renewable mix is currently 12.9 percent.
  • In March, the government announced a target of 22.7 percent renewables by 2020.
  • Spain is now the fourth largest manufacturer of solar power technology in the world.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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