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Make green energy, not war

Oct 2009
Jörg Schwartz,

A solar farm under construction near the towns of Lieberose and Turnow-Preilack, near Cottbus in Germany’s federal state of Brandenburg, has become the world’s second largest solar power plant– and Germany’s biggest– with the installation of the 560,000th solar panel of the project by German Infrastructure Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee and Brandenburg’s Minister President Matthias Platzeck.

A utility-scale solar farm is being built near Lieberose in Germany on a former military training site, giving the land a new use and helping clear it of debris and contamination.

The utility-scale project, which was realized by Wörrstadt, Germany-based juwi Group and First Solar Inc., based in Tempe, Ariz., has a total investment volume of more than €160 million and, upon completion, will deliver an output of about 53 MW. It covers an impressive area of 162 hectares, corresponding to the size of more than 210 football pitches. The farm is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of this year. Upon completion, about 700,000 thin-film modules, predominantly from First Solar’s nearby Frankfurt/Oder factory, will produce enough electricity to meet the power needs of about 15,000 households, saving approximately 35,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The land it is being built on has its own history. It used to be the largest military training site of the Soviet army in Eastern Germany, including its center for chemical agents – many of which, along with other ammunition, were left behind when the Red Army left in 1992. When operational, the solar farm not only will pay for itself and generate green electricity but also will be profitable enough to pay an attractive lease to the state of Brandenburg, the landowner. This money will go into restoration of the entire site, including the removal of metal and soil contaminated by leftover grenades, shrapnel and munitions.

It looks like photovoltaic electricity generation has become so profitable that it can pay its bill in full and still compete with other methods of power generation – well, not quite. Although continuous technological progress has improved the efficiency of solar cells and prices have come down as a result of increasing volumes and cheaper production methods, another major reason why the business model works is the very favorable subsidy of solar electricity in Germany. Unlike in other countries, there is no cap on a funding scheme that guarantees anyone feeding electricity generated by renewable sources into the grid a certain price – which is usually a multiple of the actual market price. When finished, the solar farm is expected to be sold to an investor, who will be paid back in no more than 15 years. After the end of the 20-year lease period, the solar farm can be removed, the cells recycled and the land restored to its natural state: being green.

ammunitionBrandenburgCO2 emissionsdecontaminationdefenseEcophotonicsenergyEuropeFirst Solargreen electricityGreenLightJoerg SchwartzjuwiLieberoseMatthias Platzeckmilitary sitemilitary training siteprofitable investmentsite restaurationsolar cell efficiencysolar cell recyclingsolar cellssolar power plantsubsidies for renewable energysubsidised feeding into gridthin film modulesTurnow-PreilackWolfgang Tiefensee

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