The 11-megawatt 61 million euro ($78.5 million) plant, a joint project of U.S. and Portuguese energy companies, spreads across a 150-acre hillside in Serpa, 124 miles southeast of Lisbon.
GE Energy Financial Services and PowerLight Corporation of the United States are working with Portuguese renewable energy company Catavento on the project.
Â”This is the most productive solar plant in the world, it will produce 40 percent more energy than the second largest one, Gut Erlasse in Germany,Â” said Howard Wenger, principal of Powerlight.
Southern Portugal, one of the sunniest places in Europe, has as much as 3,300 hours of sunlight a year.
The new plant will produce enough power to supply 8,000 homes and will be used in place of fossil-fuel burning plants that would emit 30,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year, planners say.
The photovoltaic system it uses employs silicon solar cell technology to convert sunlight directly into electricity. It will produce 20 gigawatt hours of power per year.
Portions of the plant began operating in January.
The facility is owned by GE Energy Financial Services, and will be operated and maintained by PowerLight, which also designed it. Catavento, which developed the project, will manage the facility.
Â”This project is successful because PortugalÂ’s sunshine is plentiful, the solar power technology is proven, government policies are supportive, and we are investing... to help our customers meet their environmental challenges,Â” said Kevin Walsh, managing director and leader of renewable energy at GE Energy Financial Services.
Portugal is almost entirely dependent on imported energy, but is developing large wave and solar power projects and building wind farms to supply some 750,000 homes.
It also is exploring new hydropower projects and plans to invest 8 billion euros ($10.8 billion) in renewable energy projects over the next five years.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates said in January that his Socialist government wanted 45 percent of PortugalÂ’s total power consumption to come from renewable sources by 2010.