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.
The 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.