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Aiming for Full-scale Introduction and Use of Photovoltaic Power Generation

January 2011

From materials to power plants

When most people hear the words “photovoltaic power generation,” what springs to mind is an image of residential rooftop solar panels. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this response, but anyone thinking along those lines will likely be rendered speechless if they happen to catch a glimpse of the photovoltaic power system constructed in the Canary Islands, Spain. The solar panels installed here are absolutely gigantic and differ in innumerable ways from the household panels we usually imagine. To give an idea of the scale, the site area is 3.7 times the size of the Tokyo Dome stadium.

The Solar Business Department of Sumitomo Corporation has led the project to build this photovoltaic power generation plant, which, with a rated output of 12.6 megawatts, is one of the largest in the world.

Sumitomo Corporation’s solar power business started with the supply of materials necessary for the production of solar panels. In 2001, we started to sell the panels themselves, expanding our solar business operations from upstream to midstream. As an extension of the business, Sumitomo Corporation launched its downstream power generation business in 2006. This signified our determination to establish a value chain within the solar power industry that no other energy company or general trading company apart from Sumitomo Corporation could deliver. The project that best symbolizes our challenge is the photovoltaic power generation plant in the Canary Islands, which was completed in 2008.

Operating businesses within the entire range from upstream to downstream means that we occupy the position of both supplier and operator within the same industry. This allows us to maintain strong competitiveness and gives us a promising business outlook for the future.

Reliable government assistance is essential for promoting a photovoltaic power generation project. Such assistance might take the form of a long-term guarantee to purchase the electricity generated.

Polysilicon in its raw state (right) and as a sliced wafer. Solar panels are made by laying processed wafer cells side-by-side.

Long-lasting system

A photovoltaic power plant is, of course, a CO2-free, environmentally friendly system. At the same time, it has various operational advantages.

One of these is extended life span. Once installed, the system can continue to generate power on a virtually semipermanent basis. The solar power plant in the Canary Islands is made up of about 80,000 panels. Even if some of these sustain damage due to some kind of accident, the overall system will remain intact and only the affected panels will require replacement. Such accidents are unlikely to have any significant influence on power generation. Another notable advantage is that the system poses no environmental risk, such as soil contamination, at any time throughout the period of its operation.

On the downside, there are constraints on site selection. The site must be flat and vast with abundant sunshine from the south, and it must be equipped with infrastructure such as power lines. Moreover, there must be populations nearby to consume the electric power and the government must be willing to offer preferential treatment in order to assure business feasibility. There are few places in the world that meet all the conditions.

The site of the Canary Islands photovoltaic power generation project, which was the Sumitomo Corporation’s first project of this kind, satisfied all these requirements.

Because de-installation is easy, recovery and relocation is also possible. The landscape can be restored to its original state without damage to the environment.

A relationship of mutual trust with the local community

The site of the photovoltaic power generation plant in the Canary Islands is a former vineyard, which was previously so desolate it was used for on-location filming of a sci-fi movie. It was particularly attractive as a potential site for a solar power plant because the land slopes gently toward the south, eliminating the need for civil engineering work. Furthermore, the site not only received long hours of sunlight, but also got plenty of wind, which is important for keeping the solar panels from overheating.

Prior to this project, Sumitomo Corporation established itself in this part of the world in 1995, when it participated in Toyota Canarias, Toyota’s distributor in Canary Islands, and then subsequently developed business into Lexus distributor and Toyota/Lexus dealers, too. Starting in 2004, it has also implemented a range of environmental measures in the area, including being the first to sell hybrid vehicles. People living in the area do not take easily to outsiders, but we were able to promote our solar power plant project without this becoming an issue, thanks to the human network we had formed through the car dealership. This is a good example of the synergistic advantages brought about by the integrated corporate strength of Sumitomo Corporation.

In addition to the network we have established as a Japanese car dealer, we continued to send the message that “we want to work together with local people as partners.” This sincere message made an impact on the local community and the plant was able to be completed thanks to the solid, trust-based relationship we were able to form with them.

The opening ceremony of the photovoltaic power generation plant in Spain. The fact that a Japanese consortium had taken the initiative in a photovoltaic power generation project imbued the project with great significance.

Worldwide introduction of photovoltaic power generation business

Having completed its first photovoltaic power generation plant in the Canary Islands, Sumitomo Corporation has been involved in similar projects around the world. In January 2011, a 9.7-megawatt photovoltaic power generation plant was launched in the province of Puglia in southern Italy, as was a 30-megawatt photovoltaic power generation plant in the city of Les Mees in southern France in August of that same year.
In 2012, it was decided that Sumitomo Corporation would take part in the world’s largest-scale photovoltaic power generation business--a 550-megawatt plant-which will be built in the state of California in the USA.

As the number of large-scale photovoltaic power generation plants, known as “mega solar plants,” increases the price of the electricity produced will drop and the number of users will grow. The next challenge that should be tackled is working out how to store the electricity effectively so that it can be made available at the time and in the amount needed.

To date, solar panels and their raw materials installed and distributed by Sumitomo Corporation generate over 2,000 megawatts in total, which accounted for more than 40% of the total photovoltaic power generation facilities installed in Japan up to 2011.

Sumitomo Corporation will continue to venture into new frontiers, seeking to promote and spread photovoltaic power generation to other parts of the world.

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A photovoltaic power generation plant near the city of Les Mees in southern France. To preserve the tourist site “Les Mees Rocks” (the rocks at the center of the photo on the left), construction was carried out only on necessary areas and solar panels were installed utilizing the original landscape

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The world’s largest photovoltaic power generation plant is under construction in the state of California in the USA. The site area is as large as 16㎦

Related Tag

  • Environment & Infrastructure Business Unit
  • Spain / France / U.S.A.
  • Electric Power & Energy
  • Environment

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