My wife and I had some guest from Wisconsin, the other cheesy state, recently for a few days. They were not interested in touring dairy farms or cheese factories, so I decided to show them Roswell’s latest and greatest new development. No, I am not talking about the new parking lot at the Convention Center. I am referring to the new solar farm out on East Pine Lodge. Have you seen it yet or do you even know about it?
Well let me tell you. While the ladies spent one morning at the gym, we guys took a drive out to Bitter Lake to see what a four year drought looks like. On the way, just past the railroad tracks the world changes. Instead of a lot of brush and a few buildings here and there, we saw this massive track of black solar panels on both sides of the road. This was the $290M private development that the County promised the tax payers they would not ‘be on the hook for’ if it wasn’t a successful project.
I decided to pull over at one of the gate openings to see if I could talk to some of the working crew and as my luck would have it, one of the supervisors pulled up in his white truck to see what I was up to. I told him that I write technology articles for the local paper and wanted to write something about the solar farm. Well, that sure did open him up and he was a wealth of information.
The first question I asked him was “where are you getting all your workers?” The sign by the road said it was the “Roswell Solar Farm”, and I just wanted to know how much of this project construction was actually benefitting Roswell. Of the 350 workers, about 200 were from the local area, mostly from the depressed oil industry.
Answers to follow-up questions were: The solar panels are from South Korea and Malaysia. The trackers (allows panel to follow the sun) are from California and the inverters (DC/AC) from Pennsylvania. The fencing around the three farms was done by Allied Fence and Security but I have not verified where they are from (I suspect TX).
I only asked a couple of operational questions but there was one thing I thought was pretty cool. The trackers have sensors and can determine when hail is coming down and will immediately move the panels to a vertical position to avoid damage and will resume tracking the sun when it comes back out.
It is only taking a little over 1 year to build out 700,000 solar panels at three locations along the power lines to and from the SPS Chaves Substation northeast of Roswell. The three farms consist of 1300 acres of private land previously used for grazing. The panels will track the sun throughout the day and are set on post several feet above ground so the goats/sheep can continue to clear the vegetation that will grow under them.
Nextera Energy is the builder and operator of this new Roswell Solar Farm. There are also two other farms on the 1300 acre site, Chaves County Solar (CCS) and CCS II. The worker I chatted with mentioned that another phase after these three was being planned. Apparently the project is going well enough for Nextera Energy to pick up an option for another phase. This has not been confirmed from Nextera Energy or the County Planner as of this writing.
Here is how the process works: “As sunlight hits the 700,000 solar panels, the solar radiation is converted into direct current (DC) electricity. The direct current flows into power inverters, where it is converted into alternating current (AC). Finally, the electricity travels through transformers, and the voltage is boosted for delivery onto the transmission grid for local electric utilities to distribute the electricity to homes and businesses” (Ref: Nextera Energy Roswell Solar Fact Sheet).
Not all the electromagnetic radiation (ie: solar energy) is converted to electricity because it’s made up of a range of different wavelengths, and therefore energy levels. About 70% of the energy is passed straight through the panel’s crystalline silicon cell material. Therefore the efficiency of solar farms is limited by the materials used for the solar cell. I have talked about graphene in past articles and someday it will be available in affordable quantities to replace silicon and greatly improve the capture rate from the sun’s radiation.
Just for comparison, wind turbines require 60 acres per tower (per Nextera fact sheet) and 1300 acres would only accommodate 21 wind turbines with variable kilowatts (KW) based on size of the blades and availability of wind. That is one hell of a big foot print for so little electricity. You could build 10 small modular molten salt reactors (MSR) as an array in that space (most of it underground) that produce 250 MW per reactor 24/7.
I will be the first to say that you can not build one MSR underground for $290M but, by 2050 MSR designed nuclear energy will be the base load source of electricity and heat generation. Next weeks article will explain nuclear waste and nuclear fuel storage for the concerned citizens in Southeast New Mexico.