Updated from 4:36 p.m. EST

Sempra Energy ( SRE), having just completed a solar power plant near Las Vegas in December, is now working to increase the scale of the facility to become a major supplier of solar power to the consumer market.

If Sempra's plan works, it could provide the blueprint for commercial-scale solar power generation in the U.S.

The El Dorado Energy Solar facility, outside of Boulder City, Nev., is North America's largest and most cost-efficient thin-film solar power plant. The plant currently has 10 megawatts of electricity-generation capacity that can power 6,400 homes.

Sempra Energy's El Dorado Energy Solar facility in Nevada

The plant is powered by 167,000 solar panels manufactured by First Solar ( FSLR), based in Tempe, Ariz.

Sempra has a 20-year contract with a California subsidiary of PG&E ( PCG) to sell the power it generates from the El Dorado facility.

According to Sempra Energy, the thin-film technology it gets from First Solar uses "an advanced thin-film semiconductor technology to convert sunlight into electricity without air emissions or water use. These modules will generally produce more electricity under real-world conditions than conventional solar modules with similar power ratings."

The ability of First Solar's thin-film technology to generate power without using water or other liquids makes it ideal for deployment in arid ecosystems such as the southwestern U.S.

Sempra wants to add the next 40 megawatts of power capacity before the end of 2009. Sempra is calling the second phase of the project Copper Mountain Solar. However, Michael W. Allman, the CEO of Sempra Generation, says that there is a big difference between a 10-megawatt plant and a 50-megawatt plant.

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