Environment

World’s largest solar thermal plant now fully operational

The world's largest solar thermal generation plant, Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is now fully operational
The world's largest solar thermal generation plant, Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is now fully operational
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Funded by NRG, Google, and BrightSource Energy, Ivanpah is expected to generate enough electricity each year to power 140,000 homes
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Funded by NRG, Google, and BrightSource Energy, Ivanpah is expected to generate enough electricity each year to power 140,000 homes
Ivanpah will produce 392 MW of electricity
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Ivanpah will produce 392 MW of electricity
The world's largest solar thermal generation plant, Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is now fully operational
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The world's largest solar thermal generation plant, Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is now fully operational

After three years of construction, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) is now operational. The 392 MW plant, funded by NRG, Google, and BrightSource Energy, is expected to generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes, each year. NRG announced last week that each of the plant's three units is now supplying electricity to California's grid.

The Ivanpah plant cost US$2.2 billion to build and stretches over 3,500 acres (more than 1,400 hectares). ISEGS is the largest solar power plant of its kind, accounting for nearly 30 percent of solar power generated in the US. It uses 173,500 heliostats (computer-controlled mirrors) that follow the sun's trajectory and reflect its light towards three solar receiving water boiler towers. The boilers superheat steam to temperatures of up to 550° C (over 1,000° F), which drives standard turbines to generate electricity.

The electricity produced by Units 1 and 3 at Ivanpah, accounting for 259 MW, is being sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under two "long-term power purchase agreements.." The remaining 133 MW generated by Unit 2 is being sold to Southern California Edison with similar terms.

"Cleantech innovations such as Ivanpah are critical to establishing America's leadership in large-scale, clean-energy technology that will keep our economy globally competitive over the next several decades," says NRG Solar's president Tom Doyle. "We see Ivanpah changing the energy landscape by proving that utility-scale solar is not only possible, but incredibly beneficial to both the economy and in how we produce and consume energy."

Ivanpah's construction has not been without controversy. Its huge scale means that a great deal of open land has been used, which had previously been the preserve of the native flora and fauna. Furthermore, there are continued reports of birds being killed by flying into the mirrors or being scorched to death as they fly over the plant.

Eric Davis, assistant regional director for migratory birds at the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Sacramento office has been reported as saying, "We're trying to figure out how big the problem is and what we can do to minimize bird mortalities. When you have new technologies, you don't know what the impacts are going to be."

The California Energy Commission has stated that while Ivanpah will impact the local environment, its benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Sources: NRG, BrightSource Energy

29 comments
Craig Jennings
$2200000000/392000000W = $5.61/W. Ouch, but if you have the money that's of no concern. I wonder what the balance would have been verses a PV set up? The birds would have been better off at least ;) Still, "clean" (why say green?) energy is still a lower cost than burning stuff.
J.D. Ray
Essentially you've shown that it cost around $5600 per kW, which is expensive for a power plant but not unreasonably so. The value comes in that there's no fuel to burn. It's like building a dam, but without the concerns over fisheries. Now if we can just loft a solar reflector in geo-stationary orbit so that it produces at night, its productive capacity will increase by at least double, if not more (accounting for losses for when the sun's up, but the angle is too low).
Khoop
Wouldn't that be $5.61/W *this year? Then $2.80/W next year (+operating costs) $1.87/W (+ operating costs) the year after ... and so on.
Gildas Dubois
On the type of power plants I work on (DO and HFO), fuel represent 70 to 90% of the life cost... Short term calculations are pretty blind to facts.
thk
This solar plant might be the last of its kind. Prices of photovoltaic cells have fallen so much it is not feasible to build csp thermal plants anymore.
Wombat56
There should be a significant amount of shelter and shade created UNDER the mirrors, so I predict that some local wildlife will benefit greatly and others not so much. You win on the roundabouts, you lose on the swings. How do they keep the mirrors clean?
Nairda
Given that solar is now $1/W, this would not appear viable on face value. But it doesn't add up in my mind. In reality as with any 'different' project, all the costs were bloated to hell, and every man and his dog made money on it, as usual. And big oil as usual is smiling in the background. A solar concentrator is essentially a steam engine on its side, with mirrors focussing the sun on its boiler. As such it should cost no more then the land, labour, iron and fabrication of the materials. The whole thing can be made modular for cheap overseas and imported. If people were serious (and there was no influence in the background to keep status quo) these things would be peppered all over the place and costs would be around the $.5-1/W If they really wanted to double wammy it they would combine the concentrating mirrors with lower efficiency solar panels, which would work in a roundabout way because the head would reflect back some of the light, which would get picked up by the panels a second time.
Marcus Hicks
Around $5500 per kw, vs around $1500-$2500 per kw for a brand new coal-fired power station-& between $2500-$3500 per kw for a brand new gas-fired power station. That's not too bad, especially when you consider that this price will come down as more such facilities get built (material costs in particular). Also, as JD rightly points out, that price differential will level out quickly given the lack of ongoing fuel cost & waste disposal costs (millions of tonnes of fly-ash waste are produced every year by coal-fired power stations, waste that needs to be disposed of, safely, as its usually laced with heavy metals & even radioactive materials). I am curious, though, as to whether they did the smart thing & installed salt storage tanks, as molten salt would allow this sucker to run 24/7, for a few days, without any additional sunlight.
Marcus Hicks
This facility would be no greater threat to bird populations than a single high-rise building.
Simon Sammut
What ever happened to using sodium as the heat medium instead of steam? Sodium can store enough energy on a sunny day to also radiate it back through the night.