We’ve all felt the power of the sun’s rays, and thanks to modern technology, we now have the ability to harness that power and use it to produce electricity. In the desert of New Mexico, where residents are lucky enough to enjoy about 300 days of sun a year, Southern Company and Turner Renewable Energy have partnered to create one of the largest solar energy plants in the nation, creating enough electricity to provide for about 9000 homes.

Getting solar power to consumers

The process by which the sun’s rays are converted into energy involves multiple steps. Solar panels at the facility (thin film photovoltaic modules) when hit by sunlight trigger an electronic process, which creates DC power. This is converted to AC power and then carried to a transformer, where it ultimately ends up in distribution lines that carry energy into homes.

Electricity generated by the Cimarron Solar Facility will be distributed through Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a not-for-profit wholesale power supplier serving 44 electric cooperatives with 1.5 million consumers across Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Cimarron Solar Facility began commercial operations in December 2010. With almost 500,000 solar panels that cover about 240 acres, the plant represents a key milestone in the growth of clean, renewable energy.

New Mexico was chosen for the location because of its extraordinary weather. According to the National Weather Service, New Mexico is one of the top five states with the highest number of sunny days per year. The others (Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas) may surprise some people, especially those familiar with Florida’s “sunshine state” motto. In truth, the sunniest spot in Florida only sees an average of 128 clear sunny days, compared to New Mexico, which can get more than double that.

Because the sun is the fuel, solar energy production creates no emissions. It’s a critical component for meeting the nation’s growing energy demand in a way that is both efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Southern Company, one of the largest generators of electricity in the nation, has been working steadily to incorporate more renewable into their energy portfolio. The Cimarron Solar Facility is a significant step forward in this effort and demonstrates the company’s commitment to growing the nation’s clean energy supply.

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