A Record Buildout of the World’s Largest Solar PV Power Plant
When the deadline to build one of the world’s largest solar power plants was dramatically shortened, an opportunity for innovation arose.
Among the sun-drenched plains of California’s Central Coast is one of the world’s most efficient power plants. The 1,500-acre (607-hectare) site generates enough electricity to supply 100,000 homes. Even better, it does so without emitting a single ounce of CO2.
The plant is not the stuff of science fiction but the very real (and operating) California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR), whose 750,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, located in the heart of San Luis Obispo County, channel enough solar energy to generate 250 megawatts of clean and reliable electricity, enough power to supply 100,000 homes.
However, turning the plain into a power plant of this caliber took ingenuity and creative thinking in spades, considering plant owner NRG Energy had, more than halfway into a two-year construction process, pressed for an even tighter deadline.
Undeterred by the news, —BechtelNRG's engineering, procurement and construction partner—embraced the challenge. What emerged from this effort was One-Pass, a comprehensive assessment plan that deconstructed every step required to build a solar power plant. From materials delivery and unpacking equipment to final adjustments on installed panels, no stone was left unturned. The result? One-Pass shaved off critical seconds across CVSR’s entire assembly process. That doesn’t sound like much, but scaled to the plant’s 750,000 PV panels, it was a significant time saver.
The streamlined assembly process also minimized the project’s impact on the environment. “Our site team had to be very agile in redirecting crews and equipment to keep construction moving forward when we encountered protected wildlife,” explains Bob Kasper, CVSR project director at Bechtel. As such, to minimize impact on plants and animals, we constructed alternate migration routes for pronghorn antelope. It also created 221 new habitats forsmall animals. And it even erected special fencing to protect the rats and San Joaquin kit foxes. “Our One-Pass installation process also helped minimize our impact on native grasses,” Kasper says. “That not only reduced our contact with the plants but also allowed any damaged plants to start recovering sooner.”
An integral part of this sustainable construction process was an ambitious program in which 90 percent of construction waste was recycled and reused on CVSR—40 percent more than required by San Luis Obispo County.
Finally, to meet the new deadline, workers were encouraged to get trained in new skills critically needed for CVSR that could also improve their overall career prospects. Hence, rather than just weld, a welder could also train to become a PV panel installer. “It was a great opportunity for us to improve and refine our processes,” explains Kasper. “We knew we could plow new ground and establish metrics for future solar photovoltaic work,” adds Site Manager Scott Goldsmith.
The focus paid off. The project was delivered to NRG Energy three months before the agreed upon deadline.