Topaz Solar Farm (550 MW), California
Topaz Solar Farm (550 MW), California

Topaz Solar Farm (550 MW), California

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Project Topaz Solar Farm
Location Carrizo Plain, San Luis Obispo County, California
Began date November 2011
Completion date November 2014
No. of solar panels installed 9 million CdTe solar modules
Nominal Power (Capacity) 550 megawatts (MWAC)
Project cost $2.5 billion
Area covered 4700 acres
Owner Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables
Installer FirstSolar
Power Purchaser Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)

Topaz Solar Farm is one of the largest solar farms in the United States and has a nominal capacity of 550 megawatts (MWAC). The project involved the installation of 9 million CdTe solar modules. Cadmium Tellurium (CdTe) solar modules belong to thin-film solar technology.

The American solar panel manufacturer FirstSolar acquired the contract to design and manufacture solar panels from Austra in 2009. FirstSolar started the project in November 2011 and took three years to complete it.

In January 2012, BHE Renewables finished the acquisition of the solar farm from FirstSolar. And as of today, BHE Renewables owns, operates, and maintains the solar farm.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), an American utility company, has contracted to buy solar power from the plant for 25 years under a power purchase agreement (PPA). Since California utilities had to mandatorily get 33% of their power from renewable energy, the project was promising for PG&E and a good investment for BHE Renewables. However, a major challenge came in early 2019. After facing multiple wildfire damages, PG&E filed bankruptcy. The plant survived and continues to power 160,000 average Californian homes.

Topaz Solar Farm
Topaz Solar Farm

Location and site

Located in the Carrizo Plain, California, the site was chosen after thorough research. Many factors were considered, like solar irradiance, the proximity to the nearest electrical transmission lines, the environmental impact of the project, and land usage.

The adjacent 230 kV Morro Bay-to-Midway transmission line provides access to the site.

Spread across 4700 acres, the solar farm has a positive impact on the environment. With no emission, no waste production, and no water use, the photovoltaic system contributes a very small carbon footprint. Annual rainfall in the region is sufficient to clean the panels. The photovoltaic elements, cadmium and tellurium, are also recyclable.

The satellite image of Topaz Solar Farm captured on January 2, 2015
The satellite image of Topaz Solar Farm captured on January 2, 2015

The vegetation in the region provides dust control and grazing for animals.

The land is a part of previously distributed agricultural land. And after the operation of the project, the land will be restored to its original status.

The modules are ground-mounted and angled at 25°, and the tallest structure of the photovoltaic arrays reaches 5.5 feet high.

Ground-mountings of steel that will support solar modules. The photo was captured on October 12, 2012.
Ground-mountings of steel that will support solar modules. The photo was captured on October 12, 2012.

Benefits from Topaz Solar Farm

The solar park has added $417 million economic benefit to the region. The majority of it goes to the early projects. It includes $192 million for 400 construction jobs from 2012 to 2014, $52 million for local suppliers, $14 million in sales taxes before commissioning, and every year $400 thousand in property tax.

The renewable power generated displaces 377,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually. It is equivalent to 73,000 cars displayed every year.

Electricity generation from Topaz Solar Farm

The plant started to generate solar power from the beginning of 2013. In its first year of operation, it produced 401,308 MW h. In 2019, the annual production was 1,255,722 MW h or 143 MW. It is 26% of its nominal capacity.

As of 2019, the average annual production stands at 1,129,035 MW h or 129 MW. It is 23.5% of its nominal capacity.

Further, we can see from the table below that the energy produced is always higher in the second and third quarters of the year than the other two. It’s because solar insolation touches its peaks at that portion of the year.

Year Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Annual
2013 24,738 90,151 159,409 127,010 401,308
2014 179,735 300,189 359,230 266,703 1,105,857
2015 291,270 341,846 383,883 284,338 1,301,337
2016 274,993 365,663 380,177 244,927 1,265,760
2017 195,894 369,030 373,939 298,669 1,237,532
2018 276,060 398,596 384,314 276,757 1,335,727
2019 243,522 359,689 390,515 261,996 1,255,722
2020 275,757 371,906
Average (2013–2019) 1,129,035


Where is Topaz Solar Farm located?

Topaz Solar Farm is located at 10400, Helios Way, San Luis Obispo County, California, 93453.

How long did it take to build Topaz Solar Farm?

The project began in November 2011 and got completed in November 2014, so it took almost three years to build Topaz Solar Farm.

How big is Topaz Solar Farm?

Topaz Solar Farm has 9 million solar panels occupying an area of 4700 acres.

How many solar panels does Topaz Solar Farm have?

It has 9 million CdTe solar panels installed.

For How many households does Topaz Solar Farm provide energy?

Topaz Solar Farm provides enough energy to power 160,000 average Californian households.

Who owns Topaz Solar Farm?

Topaz Solar Farm is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables.

How much power does Topaz Solar Farm generate today?

In 2019, the net annual power generated by Topaz Solar Farm was 1,255,722 MW h. It is equivalent to 143 MW.

What is Topaz Solar Farm’s annual average power output?

The annual average power output of Topaz Solar Farm is 1,129,035 MW h. It is equivalent to 129 MW.

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