After three years and 8.5 million man-hours, the world’s largest solar power plant was officially opened last week in the USA’s sun-scorched Mojave Desert.
A joint effort between NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is America’s flagship concentrated solar power (CSP) facility, and will account for nearly 30 percent of all solar thermal energy currently operational in the US.
A sea of sun-tracking mirrors called heliostats will reflect and focus sunlight onto boilers sitting atop three 450-foot high towers. Combined, they have a peak total capacity of 392-megawatts, or enough power to provide 140,000 California homes and avoid 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to removing 72,000 vehicles off the road.
US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz led a dedication ceremony at the plant on February 13 on behalf of the federal government, which provided Ivanpah with a $1.6 billion loan guarantee.
"The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy," said Secretary Moniz. "As the President made clear in the State of the Union, we must continue to move toward a cleaner energy economy, and this project shows that building a clean energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions, and fosters American innovation."
California utility Pacific Gas & Electric has a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA) to buy electricity from Ivanpah’s Units 1 and 3, while energy from Unit 2 will go to Southern California Edison.
In mid-2011, Google Inc. invested $168 million in Ivanpah as part of its global green energy program.
"Congratulations to the Ivanpah team for achieving commercial operation," said Rick Needham, Google's director of energy and sustainability. "At Google we invest in innovative renewable energy projects that have the potential to transform the energy landscape and help provide more clean power to businesses and homes around the world. Ivanpah is a shining example of such a project and we're delighted to be a part of it."