New Ivanpah CSP Solar Farm Powers 100,000 Homes, reduces CO2

by Guest Contributor Ari Phillips.

Renewable Energy. Ivanpah CSP solar power plant, Image by Shutterstock_138838715
Renewable Energy. Ivanpah CSP solar power plant, Image by trekandshoot / Shutterstock.com

Originally published on ThinkProgress.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz marked the opening of the world’s largest solar thermal plant on Thursday in the Mojave Desert near the border of California and Nevada. The 392-MW Ivanpah project, developed by BrightSource Energy Co, started operating last month after six years of construction.

With California struggling through one of the worst droughts on record, and Ivanpah already being located in a high desert climate, water conservation has been a major focus. Solar thermal plants use solar mirrors to heat water in boilers that in turn produce steam to turn the electricity generating turbines, are more water intensive than more common solar photovoltaic panels.

“Ivanpah is utilizing dry-cooling technology that dramatically reduces water usage,” Moniz said. “In fact, this entire facility will use roughly the same amount of water as two holes at the nearby golf course.”

The electricity generated at Ivanpah will be enough to power more than 100,000 homes, and is expected to avoid more than 13.5 million tons of carbon dioxide over its 30-year lifetime, or the equivalent of taking over two million cars off the road. Last year, utility-scale solar installed a record 2.3 gigawatts.

“President Obama and the Department of Energy are committed to ensuring that all sources of energy are competitive in a carbon constrained economy,” Moniz continued, citing the more than $24 billion in loan guarantees the department has made for clean energy programs as well as the over $8 billion for fossil fuel projects that lower emissions.

The Department of Energy provided the Ivanpah project with a $1.6 billion loan guarantee, which helped attract investors such as NGR Solar and Google, which invested $168 million, according to Peter Davidson, executive director of the DOE’s Loan Program Office.

The DOE’s loan program has been a strong success — despite setbacks such as Solyndra, which threaten to take over the narrative when turned into political fodder. As of last year, losses only accounted for about two percent of the $34 billion portfolio, far less than the $10 billion loan loss reserve set aside by Congress for expected losses.

However, with projects like Ivanpah locking in the one-third renewable energy requirement that California utilities must use by 2020, and out-of-state projects offering potential competition, it’s doubtful that many more massive solar plants in interior California will be built in the near future. Smaller, distributed solar projects are also less impactful on fragile ecosystems and can be placed closer to energy-demanding metropolitans.

“The glory days, if you will, are behind us,” Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar, the majority owner of Ivanpah, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

California is already the nation’s largest solar market because of its bright skies and state-wide efforts. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry adds about $2.6 billion into the economy.

And the state’s lawmakers continue to look for new ways to stay on top of the nation’s clean energy leader board, passing a law last year that would allow state regulators to raise renewable requirements without having to go through the legislature first. Democratic State Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez has also introduced legislation that would facilitate the process of raising renewable goals, possibly by up to 50 percent by 2030.

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This article, The Ivanpah Solar Power Plant Uses Relatively Little Water, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Ivanpah Sets Record for Largest CSP Power Plant

by Tina Casey.

You’re going to be hearing a lot about this one: today, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is officially dedicating the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System. The massive new facility, now up and running at Ivanpah Dry Lake in California after a series of successful shakedown tests, has set a record as the world’s largest Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plant of its type.

Renewable Energy. Ivanpah CSP plant courtesy of NRG.
Renewable Energy. Ivanpah CSP plant courtesy of NRG.

While the success of the Ivanpah CSP plant gains the US a claim to fame in the hotly competitive global solar tech market, here at home the massive project has gained notoriety for the whopping $1.6 billion loan guarantee it received from the Department of Energy’s much maligned (at least, by the usual maligners) Loans Programs Office.

We’ve also been keeping a close eye on the 392 MW project because of its A-list array of developers including the company NRG (known for its EV charging stations and freestanding solar canopies), BrightSource Energy, and of course Google, which put up a cool $168 million to help build it, as well as the global engineering firm Bechtel.

About That Ivanpah CSP Controversy…

Back in 2012 Representative Darrell Issa (R- CA), head of the House Oversight Committee, put the Ivanpah CSP plant on the hot seat over a flurry of emails between the company and the Energy Department, as part of an investigation of “preferred treatment” received by six alternative energy projects.

The Committee appeared to be anticipating a Solyndra-style financial collapse by some or all of those projects, including the Ivanpah CSP plant, but rumors of its death were premature, to say the least, and the investigation fizzled out.

For the record, financial risk is a feature, not a bug, of the DOE loan program, which started under the Bush Administration in a push to cement public-private partnerships into the US civic structure. Overall, the program has been a stunning success.

Congress had actually set aside a $10 billion loan loss reserve for the DOE loan program to cover anticipated losses, and as of last year those losses only came up to less than ten percent of that amount.

Ivanpah CSP Plant Powers Up

We’ve been following the Ivanpah project since shovels hit the ground in 2010, with completion expected late in 2013.

Sure enough, in March 2013 the passed its first “flux,” test, in which the plant’s thousands of heliostats (a fancy word for mirror), focused solar energy onto the boiler, bringing it just below the point of steam.

The next step was a shakedown of the plant’s steam pathways, and by September 2013 it was ready for a critical first “sync” test, which it also passed swimmingly (sync refers to synchronizing power output from the plant to the grid).

Earlier this month, various headlines suggested that the plant is now fully operational, but to the best of our knowledge it is still engaged in what is obviously a longer process than simply flipping a switch.

Nevertheless, given the success of the project so far, DOE is on pretty secure footing by going ahead with today’s dedication ceremony.

It’s also a good opportunity for DOE to tout the success of the loan program, which aside from the world’s largest CSP also includes one of the world’s largest wind farms, the first solar thermal storage project and the first power tower with solar thermal storage in the US, and some of the world’s largest parabolic trough CSP plants.

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This article, Controversial Ivanpah Solar Power Plant Sets Record, Settles Controversy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. Tina CaseyTina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.