California’s Prize-fighter in Solar Electric Generation Opens!

You come home from a long day and with the flick of a switch your lights turn on. You open your refrigerator doors and there is a nice variety of cold foods and beverages waiting for you, glamorized by the incandescent light bulb that beautifully highlights them. After you have gotten your drink and ate dinner you can relax on that couch and watch your favorite show on your big screen high-definition LCD TV. We are certainly blessed with the ample amount of energy we have available to us here in the United States. For those of us living in California, here are the different types of electricity we produce (highest to lowest): Natural gas, renewables, nuclear, hydroelectric, and the almost non-existent coal.

Today I would like to talk about our state’s latest renewable energy power plant, The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Located in Ivanpah Dry Lake Bed on the edge of the California-Nevada border, you might see this site on your next road trip to Las Vegas. This facility just opened yesterday and will provide up to 377 gross megawatts of clean energy. Unlike other solar electric farms that use photovoltaics (solar panels), Ivanpah is a solar thermal power plant. They use thousands of movable mirrors, called heliostats, that direct concentrated beams of sunlight to a power tower, which in turn produces the electricity using the large amounts of heat that is captured.

Although this project cost $2.2 Billion, more than half of the funding was provided by the US Department of Energy as a loan guarantee. The owners of this project are NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, and Google Inc. BrightSource currently has contracts to sell 2/3 of the energy to PG&E and the rest to Southern California Edison. 

Here are some more facts from Ivanpah’s website about this project:

-The electricity generated by all three plants at the Ivanpah solar complex is enough to serve more than 140,000 homes in California.

-The Ivanpah project has received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee by the US Department of Energy to help fund this project. The solar complex nearly doubles the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the U.S. today.

-More than 13.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided over the 30-year life cycle of the plant, equivalent to taking 2.1 million cars off the road. This solar complex also cuts major air pollutants by 85% compared to new natural gas-fired power plants.

-BrightSource’s LPT solar thermal systems being deployed at Ivanpah use a air-cooling system. This dry-cooling system allows us to reduce water usage by more than 90% over competing solar thermal technologies using conventional wet cooling systems.

-The Ivanpah project will employ 170,000 low-impact heliostats. The entire Ivanpah project features an industry-leading low-impact design, resulting in maximum land-use efficiency. The heliostat technology places individual mirrors onto metal poles that are driven into the ground, which allows vegetation to coexist underneath and around our mirrors; reduces the need for extensive land grading; and uses far fewer concrete pads than other technologies. The project is also thoughtfully sited near existing roads and transmission lines and in an area where human activity has already left its mark.

If you don’t get a chance to see this project in person, here is a great virtual tour that shows multiple parts of this development:


+M. Farid Shahid



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