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OptiSolar sets sights on world's largest solar farm

Central California's San Luis Obispo County could become home to 550 megawatts of low-slung photovoltaics.

OptiSolar aims to build the largest solar farm in the world some 100 miles north of Los Angeles. It would amount to 550 megawatts and power the equivalent of 190,000 homes.

The Hayward, Calif., company aims to begin construction in 2010, assuming that San Luis Obispo County will approve permits being submitted in May.

OptiSolar's thin-film silicon photovoltaics can be placed close to the ground without needing a dramatic tilt, according to the company. OptiSolar says it uses about 1 percent of the silicon of competing crystalline systems, with nontoxic and recyclable equipment made largely of glass, metal, and concrete.

Nellis Air Force base in Nevada holds the record for the largest solar plant in North America, with 14 megawatts of arrays. If OptiSolar succeeds, its farm could provide nearly 40 times that amount within six years.

California is requiring that utilities by 2010 use renewables for 20 percent or more of electricity.

Overcast Germany is recognized as the world's leader in working solar installations.

OptiSolar's farm would provide close to 40 times the energy of the 14-megawatt arrays at Nellis Air Force Base.
OptiSolar's farm would provide close to 40 times the energy of the 14-megawatt arrays at Nellis Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.

OptiSolar says it is working with the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the project, set to cover nearly 10 square miles near the Carrizo Plain National Monument, won't harm wildlife including the endangered San Joaquin kit fox. Less than 5 feet off the ground, the panels are also meant to be out of sight from nearby Highway 58.

The company has 270 employees and says hundreds of workers would be needed during installation, with minimal maintenance once the panels are up. Manufacturing is in Hayward and Sacramento.

In April, OptiSolar attracted $3 million from Kensington Global Private Equity Fund in Canada, where the company plans to build a 60-megawatt solar installation.

Last year Google distinguished itself as having the largest corporate solar installation, which amounts to 1.6 megawatts and powers up to 40 percent of the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Semiconductor equipment maker Applied Materials is outdoing Google with a 1.9-megwatt solar installation in nearby Sunnyvale.