Edwards Sanborn
(Edwards & Sanborn Solar and Energy Storage/Mortenson)

This Massive Solar Farm, One of the Largest Projects in DoD History, Is Changing How We Look at Solar Energy

In the western Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, the world’s largest and highest-capacity solar farm is setting a new precedent for the way solar energy is collected and used.

Located partially on land belonging to Edwards Air Force Base, the Edwards Sanborn Solar and Energy Storage facility went online this month following announcements that the project had reached substantial completion in January by Terra-Gen and Mortenson, its main contractors.

The project, which represents the largest public-private collaboration in U.S. Department of Defense history, features the most impressive battery storage system located anywhere in the world, capable of generating 875 megawatts of solar power and an astounding 3,287 megawatt-hours of total energy storage.

Spanning more than 4,600 acres, the project now exceeds the Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility as the world’s largest battery storage facility. The project is currently providing power to the city of San Jose, as well as electric utility companies Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Co, the Clean Power Alliance, and others.

Edwards Sanborn
Above: The Edwards Sanborn Solar and Energy Storage project as photographed on January 12, 2024, by the Operational Land Imager-2 instrument aboard NASA’s Landsat 9 satellite (Credit: NASA).

The project was undertaken amid worsening environmental conditions in recent years that have resulted in significant strain placed on California’s power infrastructure. Some of the state’s most severe periods of drought occurred between 2012 and 2016, although similar conditions resumed in recent years according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

When drought conditions occur, water reservoirs can reach dangerously low levels, resulting in a reduced flow of water to hydroelectric power plants.

In August 2020, hundreds of thousands of homes spent close to 48 hours without power after California’s power grid became overwhelmed during extreme heat that month, with similar incidents occurring again in 2021 and 2022.

Brian Gorda, vice president of engineering at Terra-Gen, recently said the facility represents “a transformational project in the industry,” adding that it is already proving its capabilities in providing greater resiliency to Southern California’s power grid.

Presently, the facility features more than 360 miles of DC wire and boasts at least 120,720 batteries, according to current installation figures.

The site’s impressive solar array also currently features nearly two million solar panels covering its 4,660 acres focused on the generation of sustainable energy.

At 875 megawatts of total solar capacity, Edwards Sanborn features the highest of any facility in the country, with its battery storage system capable of harnessing 3,300 megawatt hours of capacity.

The area where the Edwards Sanborn Solar and Energy Storage project now operates was selected partially because the arid Mojave Desert is also one of the largest areas in the world where energy from the Sun reaches the ground.

The project also benefits from an enhanced use lease program that leverages land on Edwards Air Force Base that is currently underused, with slightly more than half of all the project’s solar panels situated on property owned by the U.S. Air Force.

Along with the solar power Edwards Sanborn generates, the Mojave is also an ideal location to collect wind energy using the site’s array of turbines.

“Only in America can we take barren land, embrace the power of the sun, and create an engineering marvel, said U.S. Air Force Brigadier General William Kale in a statement earlier this year, emphasizing “the significance of this project and what it can lead to.”

“Hopefully, this is just the spark,” Kale said.

 Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at micah@thedebrief.org. Follow his work at micahhanks.com and on X: @MicahHanks.