Jointly owned by NRG Energy, Google, and BrightSource Energy, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) sprawls across the California and Nevada border in the Mojave Desert. Ivanpah is a “hybrid solar plant”, relying on both solar power and power from natural gas. Ivanpah began operations in 2014 is still considered the largest concentrated solar plant (CSP) in the world, with facilities that stretch over 3,500 acres (development of CSP plants that will surpass the size of ISEGS are underway in Morocco and Dubai, but the entire Morocco plant won’t come online for a couple of years, and the Dubai plant not until well after that). The 377 to 400 megawatt ISEGS solar complex is revolutionizing the solar energy industry, proving that large scale renewable energy projects are not only possible, but can both thrive and surpass expectations.
With a complex including three CSP plants, ISEGS produces enough clean, renewable electricity to power 140,000 homes during peak hours, and almost double that amount during off peak hours. In fact, ISEGS produces double the amount of commercial solar thermal energy than any other plant in the United States.
ISEGS officially broke ground on October 27, 2010 and opened for business in February of 2014. Despite being one large complex, the project was actually broken down into three separate plants, each with their own 400-plus foot tower affixed with water filled receivers/ boilers. The specific technology used is known as Luz Power Tower 550, which was developed by BrightSource Energy with the goal of creating a unique take on traditional energy generation that harnessed and increased the power of the sun.
Ivanpah covers 3,500 acres, and each plant relies on solar receivers filled with water nestled atop the towers (as well as natural gas). By using 300,000 mirrors, known as heliostats, to increase the sun’s energy and reflect the light directly onto the solar receivers at strategic angles, the water in the receivers is heated to such high temperatures that it dissolves into steam. From here, the steam is then piped into a conventional turbine to generate electricity, which feeds into the power lines connected to the adjacent communities.
This large scale renewable energy project eliminates 450,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the equivalent to removing 70,000 cars from the road. And because the complex uses dry cooling to condense the steam, it consumes significantly less water than similar steam-powered plants. However, when it’s cloudy, or the sunshine is otherwise not readily available, the plant is able to run on natural gas, as well as the stored thermal energy from the solar concentrating power system.
Awarded Plant of the Year by POWER Magazine in 2014, the Ivanpah complex is proof that large-scale renewable energy projects are not only possible, but efficient as well. This massive complex was constructed in just 4 years, added jobs and funds to a somewhat dwindling economy, and is already dramatically reducing the amount of carbon emissions pumped into the atmosphere.