US opens Ivanpah, world’s biggest solar thermal park

One of the biggest and most famous solar energy projects in the world, Ivanpah, has this week started generating electricity in the US.

Ivanpah is the biggest solar thermal project in the world. It is spread across 3500 acres in the Mojave desert southwest of Las Vegas, is about four times larger than New York City’s Central Park and can be seen from the International Space Station.Ivanpah

A $2.2bn joint scheme between NRG Energy, Google, and BrightSource Energy, Ivanpah can generate 392 MW of power and was officially opened yesterday by US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The site comprises more than 300,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight onto boilers housed in the top of three 450-feet-high towers ” 150 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

The sun heats water inside the towers, creating steam that moves turbines and produces electricity, which now accounts for nearly 30 per cent of all solar thermal energy currently operational in the US.

The electricity harnessed from two of Ivanpah’s units is being sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under two long-term power purchase agreements, while the power from the third unit is being sold to Southern California Edison under a similar contract.

Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar, said the opening of Ivanpah was a milestone for both solar energy and the US energy system. “We see Ivanpah changing the energy landscape by proving that utility-scale solar is not only possible, but incredibly beneficial to both the economy and in how we produce and consume energy.

“Cleantech Ivanpahinnovations such as Ivanpah are critical to establishing America’s leadership in large-scale, clean-energy technology that will keep our economy globally competitive over the next several decades.”

Rick Needham, Google’s director of energy and sustainability, said: “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.”

David Ramm, chairman of BrightSource Energy, said the completion of Ivanpah was “a watershed moment for solar thermal energy”.

However there are doubts that a project like Ivanpah will be built again in the US. The costs of solar photovoltaic plants have dropped considerably in recent years, leaving solar thermal considerably more expensive, while the plummeting price of abundant domestic American gas means it now much cheaper to build a gas plant rather than a solar.

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