Solar power plants are power generating systems which produce energy by converting sunlight into electricity. This is done either directly by using photovoltaic (PV) cells, or indirectly by using concentrated solar power (CSP). Concentrated solar power plants make use of such components as lenses, mirrors, and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. In contrast, photovoltaic cells convert the sunlight directly into electric current using what is called the photoelectric effect.
As of June 2017, India and China have taken over as the front-runners in the development of large-scale solar power projects, as well as the USA is represented by the state of California.
The top three power plants on the current rankings are as follows:
Tengger Desert Solar Park – 1500MW – China
It is by far the largest solar power plant in the world right now. Installed in Zhongwei, Ningxia has a total capacity of 1547 MW and is known as “The Great Wall Of Solar” in China. With an area of 36,700 km2 , Tengger desert is mostly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in China. The area of the solar field is 1,200 km2 (3.2% of land).
Datong Solar Power Top Runner Base – 3GW (3,000MW) – China
With a power production of 1GW per each Phase totaling 3GW in 3 phases, Datong Solar Power plant in China is expected to become the largest solar plant in the world once completed. The government statistics indicate that from July 2016 to January 2017, the total power production of this power plant was about 870 million watts of electricity, equivalent to more than 120 MW per month of power generation.
Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park – 900 MW – India
With a power generating capacity of almost 1GW(1,000 MW), this power plant has already become the largest such park, as compared to the 648 MW solar park developed by Adani in Tamil Nadu and 550 MW in Topaz Solar Park in California.
Challenges faced by the Solar Power Industry
Due to its advantages over the fissile and nuclear energy, Solar energy has turned into one of the most promising renewable energy technologies, allowing the generation of electricity from free, inexhaustible sunlight. Due to its viability in a vastly populated area of the world, many homeowners have already begun adopting solar electricity, and large-scale power generation facilities offer solar power’s advantages to thousands of customers. But solar power still faces a number of hurdles before it can truly replace fossil fuels for power generation. Some of them include:
One of the biggest obstacles to the widespread use of solar power systems is variances in solar intensity. Since a panel’s output highly depends on the amount of solar energy it receives, solar can be regarded as a better power source in regions with a high solar irradiance.
Another obstacle to solar electricity is photovoltaic efficiency. The efficiency of a solar panel determines how much of that power is usable, and most commercial solar panels on the market in 2013 have efficiency ratings of less than 25 percent. While laboratory tests have promised such efficiencies above 50%, efficiency ratings beyond 33% at the market level are unlikely in the near future.
One major problem with solar power is reliability. At best, a solar panel can produce electricity for 12 hours a day, and a panel will only reach its peak output for a short period around the midday.
One of the important features of solar generation is that contrary to standard fissile fuel systems, it is emission-free. Of course, it should be mentioned that while this is true, the manufacturing of solar panels and related technologies can involve some environmentally unfriendly substances.