Tony Illia/ENR
PV cells provide high conversion efficiency.

A $100-million, 15-MW solar powerplant being built at Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada will use technology that its manufacturer claims provides the industry’s highest conversion efficiency.

The project is a public-private joint venture between the U.S. Air Force; PowerLight, a unit of San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower Corp.; Nevada Power Co., Reno; and MMA Renewable Ventures LLC, San Francisco. PowerLight is the project’s developer, designer, contractor and operator.

The project will use 70,000 of SunPower’s proprietary A-300 photovoltaic monocrystalline wafer panels, each with a 3.1-W-rated power value and conversion efficiency up to 21.5%. The panel architecture places metal contacts needed to collect and conduct electricity on cell backsides, eliminating reflectivity for a uniformly black front surface for enhanced performance.

The project will additionally use PowerLight’s PowerTracker technology, consisting of 5,179 single-axis mechanisms that rotate PV panels to follow the sun throughout the day. The facility, as a result, will achieve a 25% conversion rate, or about 10% higher than the industry average, claims Thomas H. Werner, PowerLight’s CEO.

The plant will provide nearly one-third of the base’s electricity during summer months for a $1-million annual cost savings, says Air Force Col. Mike Bartley, commander of Nellis’ 99th Air Base Wing. MMA secured project financing and will own and operate the plant.