Canada left behind in global solar race

You’ve got the space race, then the arms race, and now the solar PV race. Seems countries around the world are trying to one-up each other when it comes to building solar PV farms. Last week PowerLight Corp. of Berkeley, Calif., and GE Energy Financial Services announced that they will be building an 11-megawatt solar PV farm in Portugal dubbed as “world’s largest.” The installation will be done on 150 acres of south-facing hillside and will require 52,000 PV modules. Costing an estimated $75 million (U.S.), if all works out well the farm will be generating power for Portugal’s grid within the next 9 months.

Not to be outdone, the state of New Mexico and two solar startups said last week they would be building the world’s largest solar plant — this one a $1.6 billion, 300-megawatt farm spread out across 3,200 acres in New Mexico. The group, which didn’t release much detail or any information about who’s going to finance the project, said the overall cost includes construction of a $650 million factory to build the panels. The project could take up to 5 years to complete.

To date, a 10-megawatt solar park in Bavaria, Germany, stakes claim to the “world’s largest” designation, but that park is composed of different projects. Within the park, it’s really a 6.3-megawatt farm that ranks on top. Interesting to point out that PowerLight also did that installation. In the U.S., the largest right now is a 5-megawatt farm in Springerville, Arizona.

For a list of the top installations around the world, click here.

And Canada? Well, we’ve yet to crack the 1-megawatt barrier. Exhibition Place in Toronto will be doing that soon, and with the province’s Standard Offer program it now expects to expand that project to more than 2 megawatts. Mind you, we don’t have thousands of acres of desert on which to build these PV farms, but this hasn’t held back Germany, which has a very similar climate and terrain as Ontario (particularly Bavaria).

Question is, does this solar race — and the increased volumes of solar modules hitting the market — mean we’re going to see economies of scale kick in and prices fall? Or is it going to create an even larger polysilicon and module shortage crisis, further driving up costs because supply can’t meet demand?