Soaking up the Sun Massive Solar Plant Opens in Portugal

One of the largest solar plants in the world has opened in Portugal's sunny south. The project is intended to help reduce the country's reliance on imported energy.

The new Serpa solar plant is located in one of Europe's sunniest locations -- pay no attention to those clouds in the sky.

The new Serpa solar plant is located in one of Europe's sunniest locations -- pay no attention to those clouds in the sky.

Some countries are just better suited to wean themselves off fossil fuels than others. Sun-kissed Portugal is one of the lucky ones when it comes to potential for solar power generation, and the country has now opened one of the world's largest solar energy plants -- even though a plant in cloudy Germany has a higher capacity.

The plant, which is located in Serpa in Portugal's underdeveloped Alentejo region, opened on Wednesday. It has a capacity of 11 megawatts, and will deliver electricity to around 8,000 households. The Alentejo is one of Europe's sunniest locations, receiving as many as 3,300 hours of sunlight a year.

The Serpa plant was originally intended to have the highest capacity of any solar plant in the world, but has since been overtaken by the Gut Erlasse plant in Bavaria, Germany, which will have a capacity of 12 megawatts. However, the plant's management believe the Portuguese plant will overtake its German rival once actual operation begins.

"Thanks to great Portuguese sunshine and high technology, this plant right here in Serpa is expected to produce the most power -- more than 20 gigawatt-hours per year," commented Kevin Walsh, managing director for renewable energy at GE Energy Financial Services, which built the project together with California-based solar power company PowerLight Corporation and Portuguese renewable energy company Catavento.

The German plant is expected to produce less energy in actual operation, despite having a higher theoretical capacity, as it is located in a higher latitude which receives less sunshine.

The new plant is part of a Portuguese strategy of lessening the country's dependence on imported energy and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, which have surged in recent years. According to PowerLight Corporation, the Serpa plant will reduce C02 emissions by over 13,000 tons per year.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates recently said that he wants 45 percent of Portugal's total power consumption to come from renewable sources by 2010.



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