The Maricopa Solar Plant is a 1.5MW concentrating solar power project in Peoria, in the state of Arizona, US. The project commenced operations in the last week of December 2009 four months after breaking ground. It was officially inaugurated in January 2010. It is the first utility-scale commercial solar plant operating in the US.
The plant is owned and operated by Texas-based Tessera Solar and Arizona-based Stirling Energy Systems (SES). Ireland-based infrastructure and energy company NTR is the majority shareholder of Tessera Solar and SES.
The Maricopa Solar Plant is being operated by Tessera Solar under a 10-year agreement. The plant supplies energy to the state-owned Salt River Project (SRP) in the Greater Phoenix region. SRP is also buying the project’s renewable energy credits.
The plant is a part of SRP’s sustainable renewable energy portfolio of providing 15% of retail energy by 2025.
The Maricopa Solar Plant is the world’s first commercial project to house the innovative SunCatcher technology.
The plant is situated to the north of SRP’s Agua Fria Generating Station, and features 60 SunCatcher concentrating solar power dishes.
The plant was constructed by the Minnesota-based Mortenson Construction under an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract awarded in 2009.
The contractor was selected based on factors such as health and safety programme experience, quality assurance and control programme, project methodology and design-build experience.
The SunCatcher parabolic dishes were supplied by SES. The main components of the solar dishes were manufactured by automotive suppliers and assembled at the plant site.
The SunCatcher is a 25KW proprietary solar-to-grid quality electricity generation technology. The SunCatcher system is a 38ft wide parabolic dish with precision mirrors that automatically tracks and captures the sun to concentrate the solar energy onto the Power Conversion Unit (PCU) converting this energy to grid-quality electricity.
No water is used in the power conversion process. A SunCatcher produces pure AC power. They do not require DC to AC power conversion which results in energy losses.
The SunCatcher technology can be scaled easily from 1.5MW up to nearly 1,000MW to meet the future power needs. Maricopa Solar represents a 1.5MW building block. The SunCatcher collection system design allows for 1.5MW generator groups to scale into larger commissioning groups providing high availability.
The plant design allows for commissioning by 9MW groups, leading to lower commissioning risk and therefore project completion risks. The modularity allows power plants to scale to customer size requirements and site acreage.
Arizona power market
Arizona had an installed capacity of 25,861MW and generated about 119,459MWh in 2008. Of the total energy produced, 69.2% was generated through the use of coal (36.7%) and natural gas (32.5%). Palo Verde, the only nuclear plant in the state generated 24.5% and the remaining was contributed by renewable sources.
While Arizona has large desert areas, solar energy currently makes a negligible contribution to the state’s electricity supply. However, the Arizona Renewable Portfolio Standard requires the state to generate 15% renewable energy by 2025 and 4.5% from distributed generation from renewable sources. The state has about 32 potential solar projects with an installed capacity of 21GW.