Giant solar power projects now hitting developing world

Large (and sometimes extremely large) solar power projects are getting underway in a number of developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Zachary Shahan, editor of CleanTechnica and Planetsave. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of ABB or its employees.

We all know that China is rapidly developing solar power plants, some of staggering size, but less remarked upon has been the growth of the solar in other developing nations.

India is one prime example. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has recently been signed for 4,000 megawatt (MW) “ultra-mega solar power project (UMSPP).” To put that into perspective, the largest solar PV power plant in operation at the moment is the Topaz Solar Farm in the USA, and it only had 300 MW worth of solar power capacity installed as of January 2014 (550 MW is the projected size of the solar farm once it is complete).

But the UMSPP actually isn’t the most “ultra-mega” project in India. A 5,000 MW solar power project and a 2,500 MW solar power project have also just gotten the go-ahead, via an MoU, in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir,. Furthermore, India’s finance minister, Shri Chidambaram, announced in February that 2,000 MW of large-scale solar power plants will “soon” be constructed in India (in 2014 and 2015). These will be constructed in 500 MW sections.

India is known for having difficulties implementing ambitious electricity generation plans, but even if a quarter of the above projects were implemented, that’s a ton of solar power!

On the other side of the world, Mexico is building the largest solar power plant in Latin America, the 30 MW Aura Solar I, which will reportedly replace an old coal power plant. Mexico has some of the best solar resources in the world, and it is projected to leap into the solar power revolution this year. GTM Research projects that it will quadruple solar power capacity from 60 MW to 240 MW by the end of 2014.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Panama just got its first utility-scale solar PV power plant. But the hottest solar market in the region is undoubtedly Chile. So far this year, two plants have been given the go-ahead: a 300 MW solar PV power project in February, and a 110 MW concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in January. That comes on top of 100 MW of solar PV power that was added to Chile’s grid in January, and an announcement in 2013 that USA-based SunPower would be building a 70 MW unsubsidized solar PV power plant in the country. Deutsche Bank has designated Chile as one of the first markets able to build solar power plants that are cost-competitive with other power-generation options without subsidies (and without internalizing of fossil fuel pollution via pollution taxes).

Large projects are also underway or at least planned in dozens of other developing countries. In Africa, a plan to build 600 MW of solar PV power plants in Ghana was announced in March, and another very large Ghana solar project (totaling 155 MW) is supposed to begin construction this year. Some 300 MW of solar PV farms in Ethiopia are supposed to begin construction soon as well.

This is all the tip of the iceberg. As I’ve stated for years, much of the developing world is going to leapfrog fossil fuel and nuclear power plants and jump right into the solar energy age, just as they leapfrogged landlines and jumped into the age of cell phones. 2014 is shaping up to be a huge year for giant solar power plants in developing countries, but I’d expect 2015 to be even bigger.


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About the author

Zachary Shahan

I'm the director of the CleanTechnica and Planetsave news sites. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. I'm also the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity.
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