CPS Energy recently hosted a tour of Alamo 3, the latest of seven commercial solar farms the public utility has built around Texas to live up to its goal to install 400 megawatts (MW) of solar power to CPS Energy customers by 2016.
Alamo 3 is the first Texas solar plant to utilize the N-type solar cells and modules created at Mission Solar Energy, a solar panel manufacturer in Brooks City Base, located in the Southside of San Antonio. In terms of materials, Alamo 3 outshines other Texas facilities as the first completely locally-sourced solar farm. All energy and solar equipment used at the facility is created by San Antonian hands.
More than 21,400 panels power Alamo 3, located off Loop 1604 near IH-10 East, in a 70 acre, 5.5 MW powerhouse that provides renewable energy to more than 1,300 surrounding businesses and residences.
Due to overcast conditions during the tour, the panels at Alamo 3 remained in horizontal position and were not producing much energy.
On sunnier days, however the panels utilize dual-axis tracker technology from Sun Action Trackers —another local solar company — that use sensors to follow the arc of the sun both up and down, allowing more energy creation than a horizontal pattern.
“As soon the (panels) get direct sunlight, the sensors tilt the table so it’s perfectly perpendicular to the sun’s rays for the most amount of sunshine. That way, you get the maximum amount of production,” said John Bonnin, operations director for CPS Energy.
KACO new energy, yet another solar company is responsible for creating the solar inverters that convert direct current (DC) output into the type of electricity used in houses, alternating current (AC).
“The launch of Alamo 3 represents another milestone in renewable energy development for our customers,” said Cris Eugster, CPS Energy executive vice president. “This farm combines the innovations of not one, but three of our New Energy Economy partners to create a valuable, clean energy, generation tool for our community.”
Economic Impact of Solar Power in San Antonio
In June 2011, CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby launched CPS Energy’s Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP), an initiative to use renewable energy to power 20% of San Antonio by 2020 and reduce the cities demand for electricity by 771 megawatts.
Since the plans inception, four solar companies set their sights for the city and have helped contribute to the emerging green economy. SunEdison and OCI Solar Power partnered with CPS Energy to build the five pioneer solar farms, which generate 129 megawatts of energy.
By 2018, the companies plan to have 10 solar farms across the state.
Since recruiting the manufacturers, CPS Energy has created more than 900 high-paying jobs, added over $800 million to the local economy and created homegrown energy resources.
Alamo 3 is one of the smaller plants. Three other farms including 41-MW Alamo 1, 4.4-MW Alamo 2, and 39-MW Alamo 4. Alamo 5, a 100-MWproject, is currently being constructed in Uvalde.
KACO New Energy began production of its solar inverters in San Antonio in July 2013. The German manufacturer relocated headquarters into the city shortly after.
Rising Sun in Solar Energy: Mission Solar hits the Alamo City
Mission Solar isn’t your typical solar panel manufacturer. It is the only facility in America to create N-type solar cells and modules. According to officials at Mission Solar, N-type modules are technologically more advanced than traditionally used P-modules, and produce electricity more efficiently.
Upon its grand opening late September 2014, Mission Solar provided almost 100 megawatts of solar power to the Alamo City, and more than 200 jobs to the workforce.
Approximately 50 panels are created per hour at the facility. Mission Solar is expected to run at full steam in July, providing more than 400 jobs and 200 MW worth of panels, enough to power 10% of San Antonio.
“This partnership wasn’t about CPS Energy,” Doyle Beneby, CEO of CPS Energy said at Mission Solar’s inception. “It’s about San Antonio. And this is about using our means to make the city grow. This is just the beginning, but we’ve got a long term plan, partnership and growth with Mission Solar and OCI Solar Power.”
In The Dark: Texas Remains Behind
California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina, trail behind Arizona but rank in the top 10 “solar states” in the nation in 2014, according to a report from Environment America Research and Policy Center. The report ranks states according to installed capacity.
Regarding solar energy, Texas remains fumbling in the shade, but not for long.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Texas has enough solar potential to power the world twice over. Once it begins, it may be an unstoppable force.
Although solar technology hasn’t been embraced whole-heartedly by Texas yet, CPS Energy’s Alamo solar projects have helped increase awareness and pushed the state in in the right direction.
“San Antonio is becoming a base of operations for solar energy all over Texas,” Bonnin said. “I think we might be only place where we have a farm serving and powering the community, where all components are built in the community. Not even San Francisco can say they do that.”
*Featured/top image: Employees of the German-based KACO New Energy check up on a solar inverter at CPS Energy’s Alamo 3 solar farm. Photo by Amanda Lozano.