SERPA, Portugal (Reuters) - One of the world's largest solar energy plants, covering the hills of a valley dotted with olive groves in southern Portugal, started delivering electricity to about 8,000 homes on Wednesday.
The solar panels, which are raised around 2 meters off the ground, cover an area of 60 hectares (150 acres) and produce 11 megawatts of electricity in one of Europe's sunniest spots -- Portugal's poor agricultural Alentejo region.
Kevin Walsh, managing director for Renewable Energy GE, which built the project, said the plant was expected to have the highest capacity of any solar energy project in the world but a plant in Germany had overtaken it.
"But as far as we know -- thanks to great Portuguese sunshine and high technology -- this plant right here in Serpa is expected to produce the most power -- more than 20 gigawatt-hours per hour," Walsh said.
The plant, which has 52,000 photovoltaic modules, is near the town of Serpa, 125 miles southeast of Lisbon.
The scheme fits into Portugal's plans of reducing its reliance on imported energy and cutting output of greenhouse gasses that feed global warming.
Portugal's emissions have surged about 37 percent since 1990, one of the highest increases in the world.
By bringing modern technology to one of western Europe's poorest regions, the $75-million plant is expected to bring alternative development to the Alentejo.
There are also plans to build a solar power plant in the neighboring town of Moura.