Originally published on March 17, 2018 at LinkedIn
Topaz Solar Farm, one of the world’s largest solar farms, is a 550 MW photovoltaic power station in California that covers an area of 25 square kilometers. The $2.5 billion project, completed in 2014, includes nearly nine million CdTe photovoltaic modules based on thin-film technology, manufactured by the U.S. company First Solar.
Full-scale 3D computer models of Topaz Solar Farm have been added to the Virtual Solar Grid. In order to create an accurate model of such a gigantic solar power plant, I had to divide the plant into 12 fields and conquer them one by one. The largest sub-model has more than 1.3 million solar panels and the smallest has approximately 170,000. All together, the 12 computer models add up to approximately 8.5 million solar panels (half million short of the company’s assertion). Energy3D’s simulation suggests that, under the ideal condition, Topaz Solar Farm would generate roughly 1.4 GWh annually, as opposed to about 1.3 GWh per year according to the operational data shown in Wikipedia. This is possibly caused by the fact that I used First Solar’s Series 4 model FS-495 for all the 8.5 million solar panels (this is potentially a problem because, for such a large project that lasted for a number of years, there was no reason that First Solar would use only one model throughout, especially when the company was constantly improving their products.). The FS-495 was one of the oldest models of Series 4, but I guess it was probably still more efficient than First Solar’s panels back in 2011 when the project broke ground.
With the addition of Topaz Solar Farm, the Virtual Solar Grid now contains digital models of nearly 14 million solar panels. In other words, anyone who visits the Virtual Solar Grid now has access to the individual coordinates of 14 million solar panels already installed on the surface of our planet. These solar panels, however, generate only about a quarter of electricity in the Virtual Solar Grid (nearly 4 TWh per year as opposed to the total annual output of 16 TWh). In the coming months, photovoltaic models will gradually catch up with concentrated solar models when more photovoltaic solar power plants continue to come online in the Virtual Solar Grid.