North America’s largest solar photovoltaic system is now running and generating power — about 30 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. The 14 megawatt power plant is at the Nellis Air Force Base in the sunny desert of southern Nevada. It’s expected to save about $1 million in power costs annually, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 24,000 tons each year.
The plant, which cost $100 million to construct, covers 140 acres of land at the western edge of the Nellis base. The company that owns the panels is leasing the land at no cost, and Nellis is agreeing to buy the power for 20 years at about 2.2 cents/kWh, instead of the 9 cents they are paying to Nevada Power, saving the Air Force $1 million each year. None of the $100 million cost came from the Air Force.
The photovoltaic system is made up of 72,000 solar panels. It’s enough to provide 30% of the electric needs on the base, where 12,000 people work and 7,215 people live. But at 14 megawatts the power output of this system is modest, compared to the solar thermal Nevada One project which generates 64 megawatts of power.
SunPower designed and built the photovoltaic power plant using its proprietary single-axis solar tracking system which follows the sun throughout the day and delivers “up to 30 percent more energy than traditional fixed-tilt ground systems,” the company says.