Brazil has lagged far behind in the shift to solar power, but the continent’s biggest facility now being built in the south-east aims to give the country its place in the sun.
The plant in Pirapora, in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais, has 1.2 million solar panels, covering the equivalent of more than 1,200 soccer fields.
It first began producing power in September, with the second of three phases in the project going online this Thursday.
The whole thing, operated by French energy giant EDF Energies Nouvelles, should be operational before the second quarter of 2018, boasting a capacity of 400 megawatts. That’s enough to meet the annual demand of 420,000 households.
“It’s a key project of exceptional dimensions at a location that has the advantage of being flat, with little vegetation, a lot of sun, and proximity to a high voltage transmission line,” said Paulo Abranches, EDF EN chief executive officer for Brazil.
The site, sprawling over 1,977 acres (800 hectares) north of the state capital Belo Horizonte, appears to be a natural setting for capturing the sun. The little vegetation that grows has been parched, while visitors are told to wear protective leg gear against the danger of snake or spider bites.
Propped several feet (1.2 meters) off the ground, the solar panels pivot with the sun, horizontal at midday and tilting with the changing angles. Even on cloudy days they still produce, though losing about 30 percent of output.
EDF EN holds 80 percent of the Pirapora plant and Canadian Solar Inc the other 20 percent in a project with an estimated investment of more than two billion reais ($610 million).
The panels were all built by Canadian Solar at a Sao Paulo factory.
That cost “30 to 40 percent more” than the equivalent in China, Abranches says. But local production was the key requirement for the plant receiving a 529 million reais loan from Brazil’s BNDES development bank—about half the investment poured into the first phase of the project.