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World’s biggest solar thermal power plant fires up for first time

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The world’s largest solar “power tower” complex is nearing full production, and last week produced its first output of energy from its massive array of towers and heliostats in California’s Mojave Desert.

The 377MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System fed its first electrons into the local grid on September 24 when the first of its three units was synced to the local power grid for the first time.

Unit 1’s power will feed into US electric company Pacific Gas and Electric’s grid, which is also taking the output from the third unit. The second unit’s output is being taken by Southern California Edison.

ivanpahThe power tower project – which is owned by the largest independent power producer in the US, NRG Energy, technology developer BrightSource Energy, and Google – uses large heliostats to focus the sun’s energy onto a solar receiver which generates to steam power steam turbines.

“Given the magnitude and complexity of Ivanpah, it was very important that we successfully complete this milestone showing all systems were on track,” Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar, said in a statement.

Brightsource executiv chairman David Ramm said Ivanpah is the company’s showcase project, and one that it hopes will trigger interest in future installations.

“Validation at this scale demonstrates the viability of our technology as BrightSource increases focus on international markets and applications for concentrating solar power,” he said.

Rick Needham, the head of energy and sustainability at Google, said his company invests in renewable energy projects that have the potential to transform the energy landscape.

“Ivanpah is one of those projects,” he said in a statement. “We’re excited about the project achieving this first sync – a landmark event along the path to completion.”

The finalised plant, located on 1,600ha 3 of public land in California’s Mojave Desert, will have employed 2,100 people in its construction and 86 regular maintenance jobs. It will be the biggest solar thermal plant in the world, will save more than 13.5 million tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere over its 30-year life – an 85 per cent reduction from when compared to new natural gas-fired power plants.

The project has received a $1.6 billion loan from the US Department of Energy to help with the $2.18 billion price tag, and, when completed, will double the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the US.

The company ran into trouble with local environmentalists when endangered desert gopher tortoises were found on the plant site. Construction was halted and Brightsource ended up spending $22 million to find and move 150 tortoises from the area. There has also been concern over the concentrated sunlight’s effect on wild bird-life in the area.

The syncing of power from Unit 2 and 3 at the Ivanpah plant are planned for testing in the coming months as major construction is now finished.

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  • wideEyedPupil

    I’m all for saying wildlife but @$146,667 per tortoise Brightsource has been taken on a ride by local environmentalists and/or attorneys-lining-their-own-pockets.

    • http://www.ledsales.com.au/ Mr T

      More likely by the contractor who was employed to gather and move the critters.

      • Jordan

        turtleman for sure

  • Afshin Sol

    With a price tag of $2.18B and total capacity of 377MW, this plant works out to $5,782/KW. This seems really high!! Are the numbers here correct? If so, this may be one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive power plant ever built.

    • Jeff Grover

      It’s really not that much… The latest nuclear reactor built (well, Watts Bar is actually partially built, costing 6.5 billion so far… still not complete after 20 years) is projected to cost something like 4.5 billion more to generate about 3 times as much electricity (1100+MW). And I can guarantee you, the ongoing costs of solar are a whole lot lower than refining and disposing radioactive material. If you go to Home Depot, you can buy a 10kW photovoltaic system for $22k Add in the cost of mounting and stringing them all together, and you’re probably in the ball park. This sounds completely reasonable to me, even after moving the endangered wildlife.

  • http://sandwichboardisthenewbillboard.blogspot.com.au/ Michael G Swifte

    Ivanpah uses gas for baseload. There are two notable pieces of syndicated media that accidentally stated that Ivanpah had molten salt storage. This story like many that I had looked at brush over baseload and dispatchability. Most solar advocates would not be happy at the prospect of gas baseload being enshrined in the solar thermal sector? It was Bechtel who built Ivanpah. Does it not speak to motive that interviews with the Brightsource spokesperson and the Bechtel President of Renewables would be the source for molten salt rumours?