On Tuesday, I had a chance to tour one of the most exciting cleantech projects around – the 370 megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near Ivanpah, California in the Mojave Desert. This project, owned and operated by NRG Energy with technology designed and developed by BrightSource Energy, and more than 92% complete as of late May 2013, will use solar towers to produce enough electricity to power more than 140,000 homes, making it the world’s largest solar thermal power plant. Among its many benefits, Ivanpah will:
- produce enough power without any pollution that it’s estimated as the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.
- expected to produce economic benefits including good jobs already created (more than 2,100 workers at peak, 90 long-term operations and maintenance jobs not to mention supply chain jobs around the country) as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues.
As I saw firsthand during my tour of the facility, the technology behind this project is both technically impressive and beautiful. Ivanpah has more than 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors (they were installed at one mirror every minute!) that track the sun in three dimensions, reflecting sunlight onto three, 459-foot-tall towers, and creating super-heated steam to drive turbines and produce electricity. This is amazing technology and another example of how clean energy technologies (like wind, solar, smart meters, etc.) have advanced over the past few years.
Some might argue that placing a power plant in the middle of the desert could harm a fragile ecosystem. But Ivanpah has addressed these concerns in several ways:
1) through optimizing solar field design and by building taller towers, it minimizes the amount of land impacted;
2) the plant conserves water through a “dry-cooling” process rather than “wet-cooled”;
3) the facility retains the majority of the site’s natural landscape and allows vegetation (and fauna) to co-exist underneath the solar mirrors; and
4) by working to both protect and repopulate desert tortoises in the Ivanpah Valley (to date there has been no statistical difference in the tortoise population as they continue to monitor 400 of them).
I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to tour Ivanpah and meet the workers who are building the clean energy economy. The story, images and video of this inspiring facility must be shared – because together, we can facilitate the transition to a sustainable future powered by clean technology. So check out the beauty and power of solar energy below.
Photos on top and right are courtesy of BrightSource Energy and NRG Energy respectively.