In November 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that one of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced solar photovoltaic power plants became commercially operational.

The 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch features the ability to shift positions of panels wirelessly to track weather and optimize solar input to collect as much of the sun’s energy as possible.

Based in San Luis Obispo County, the site was built by NRG Energy Inc. (NYSE:NRG) and SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR). The project created hundreds of jobs and put an estimated $315 million into the local economy. The plant now powers 42,000 homes.

In 2011 the DOE guaranteed a $1.2 billion loan to support the construction of the Valley Solar Ranch plant. The loan guarantee is part of a wider DOE program to help finance large-scale projects.

The facility is the first utility-scale solar energy project in the U.S. to use wireless tracking monitors and control systems to help improve annual output by about 25 percent, compared to fixed installations of panels. The project will also avoid 279,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent to the emissions of 60,000 vehicles, the DOE said.

U.S. Solar Power Generation

Businesses, nonprofits and government organizations installed more than 1,000 megawatts of new solar panels this year. As of mid-2013, the total commercial deployment was 3,380 megawatts for 32,800 facilities across the U.S., increasing more than 40 percent over the previous year, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) released in October.

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