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Twice as Nice: Combining a Wind Farm and Solar Energy in Italy

Moncada Energy wants to add solar panels to its wind farms



Courtesy of iStockphoto; Copyright: Sabrina dei Nobili

Companies that specialize in harvesting renewable energy tend to focus in one area, whether it's solar, waves or wind power. Moncada Energy Group, s.r.l., an Italian maker of wind farm technology, is breaking with that model and plans to by the end of next year erect solar panels in the same fields as the company's wind turbines. The company is hoping the move will allow it to draw energy day and night—both when the sun shines and the night wind howls.

"[The] panels will be used for our solar farm and placed under the towers in our wind farms," Salvatore Moncada said through a translator at his company. This will allow both the panels and the wind turbines—180.4 feet (55 meters) tall, with 131.2-foot- (40-meter-) long blades—to use the same infrastructure in place to collect energy, he adds.

Moncada is working with Applied Materials, Inc., to create the large thin-film solar panels that will soon populate its wind farms.

Applied Materials knows the solar power business and claimed earlier this month to have created, with the help of SunPower Corporation, the U.S.'s first corporate campus–based solar power system. Applied Materials accomplished this by installing SunPower PowerGuard solar roof tiles capable collectively of producing 950 kilowatts of energy, along with a 1.2-megawatt SunPower sun-tracking device atop an elevated parking canopy at the company's San Jose, Calif., headquarters, effectively turning the parking lot into a power plant.

Moncada in July announced it is building a plant on 538,200 square feet (50,000 square meters) of land in Campofranco, Sicily, that will produce the 61.3-square-foot (5.7-square-meter) thin-film solar panels to be placed on the company's wind farms (around the turbine towers). The facility will begin producing these panels in 2010 using Applied Materials's SunFab thin-film production process and is expected to produce enough solar modules in a year to generate up to 40 megawatts of electrical power.

Moncada anticipates that its move to double-harvest renewable energy will add 400 megawatts of solar energy to the 105 megawatts of energy its wind farms already generate, even though the photovoltaic panels will have to contend at times with shadows cast by the turbine towers. "In a lot of places in the world," says Applied Materials chief technology officer Mark Pinto, "wind and solar energy collection are out of phase—the best time to collect wind energy is at night."

Although Moncada is a prominent builder of technology that converts wind to electricity, the company also serves a region of Italy that has the geographic potential to realize early grid parity—the point at which photovoltaic electricity is equal to or cheaper than conventional grid power—and is therefore very important for the development of photovoltaic technology, Pinto says. Applied Materials is not the first company to have identified Sicily's sunny skies as a solar business opportunity. Suntech Power, a Chinese maker of photovoltaic cells and modules, last year supplied panels to a 269,000-square-foot (25,000-square-meter) green building project in the Sicilian city of Pozzallo that is powered by a 750-kilowatt solar energy system.

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