Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Ivanpah Solar Power Plant is Running, but It maybe Too Big to Duplicate
There is a massive new solar site that is now operational in Ivanpah, Ca. in the eastern portion of San Bernardino. It was created by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy, Bechtel, with some Google funding, and it is the largest in the world of its type. The tax payer essentially owns it as they were given $1.6 Billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy(DOE). The plant has about 350,000 mirrors each the size of a garage door in several circles across the Mojave Desert. These mirrors focus the suns rays on a central tower which has a large boiler about 340 feet high. The boiler makes steam which turns turbines that will make electricity. It is projected that this project will power 140,000 homes. There have been several controversies including relocating the desert tortoise, which didn’t go well as many died during relocation. The other issue has been that this project received preferential treatment from the Energy Department. This was during the time of the Solyndra solar panel plant debacle in Fremont, Ca. Solyndra also received preferential treatment. It looks like large projects like this maybe a thing of the past as this project was so expensive, and The DOE loan guarantees are now drying up. Also, prices have come down with newer technologies, so future plants look to be smaller in scale. News reports indicate that NRG was asked to invest in another project, but they said they have $300 million in this one and are looking into smaller projects overseas. Others are saying individual projects on homes and businesses maybe the future, but if this project proves out well then maybe future investment in large scale projects will be on the desert horizon. BrightSource Energy is mostly invested in large scale projects, and an executive acknowledged at an opening ceremony that this solar thermal technology only worked on a large scale and in certain locations, and without the $1.6 Billion in loan guarantees this project would have failed. A NYTimes article indicated that the technology is already changing as BrightSource said that Ivanpah could stabilize voltage but has little storage, though it does have natural gas backup. At the dedication, Mr. Ramm said that in the future, BrightSource’s boilers would use molten salt to store the heat longer. Berberich, the president and chief executive, said that “on an apples-to-apples basis, it is more expensive than photovoltaic, but it has a heck of a lot more capabilities than photovoltaic does.” End NYTimes quote. So the project is now up and running, and it does show that even desert land out this far can be useful. This particular land was government land or BLM(Bureau of Land Management). There are other solar projects working and some underway in and just outside of Lancaster, Ca.