On Thursday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was on hand to dedicate the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, currently the world’s largest CSP, or concentrating solar power plant.
Ivanpah is Oakland-based BrightSource Energy’s flagship project and the dedication is a huge milestone for the privately held company, which shelved its plan for an IPO and is increasingly looking abroad for its project pipeline. It’s also a clean tech bright spot for the Department of Energy, since the project was the recipient of a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office.
“The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy,” said Secretary Moniz in a prepared statement. “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.”
Ivanpah has the capacity to generate 392 megawatts of electricity, most of which will be sold through long-term power purchase agreements to PG&E and Southern California Edison. The project is a joint effort by NRG, Google, and BrightSource Energy; Bechtel served as the engineering, procurement, and construction contractor.
Ivanpah is roughly 45 minutes from Las Vegas and is visible from the highway toward Los Angeles. BrightSource had hoped to build additional solar thermal power plants in southern California, but shelved those plans amid growing permitting challenges.
Unlike the photovoltaic solar panels that are common on the roofs of homes and commercial buildings, solar thermal technology concentrates the sun’s rays to boil water and generate steam. Solar thermal, also known as concentrating solar power, or CSP, is land-intensive, requires access to transmission lines and typically faces several environmental reviews and permitting hurdles before projects can be built in the desert.
Ivanpah came under fierce criticism from biologists because of its impact on the desert tortoise. More recently, evidence has mounted that some birds are dying and getting singed wings as they fly near the heliostats, which they may mistake for lakes.
Photo: An aerial view of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System with Tower 3 in the foreground, Tower 2 in the middle and Tower 1 in the background. (NRG Energy)