Submitted by amyguinan on December 21, 2010 – 10:30am
The 370-megawatt solar-thermal Ivanpah project, located just over the California border, 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas, is the world’s largest power plant project currently under construction. By year’s end, California and federal regulators expect to approve additional projects that will produce a total of 4,143 megawatts. At peak output, that’s the equivalent of several nuclear power plants and more than seven times the solar capacity installed in the United States last year.
The power plants licensed so far will cover some 39 square miles of desert land with a variety of new and old solar thermal technologies. Unlike rooftop photovoltaic panels that directly convert sunlight into electricity, solar thermal uses the sun to heat liquids to create steam that drives electricity-generating industrial turbines.
BrightSource, the company behind the construction of Ivanpah, received a $1.37 billion loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy to build the project, which will deploy 347,000 large mirrors that will surround three towers on 3,500 acres of federal land. The mirrors will focus the sun on a water-filled boiler that sits atop the tower to create high-temperature, high-pressure steam.
According to BrightSource CEO, John Woolard, “In the U.S. we’re lucky. The southwestern U.S. has high desert, which means it’s closer to the sun, less atmosphere to go through. It’s the best solar resource anywhere, outside the Atacama Desert in Chile or a few places. Harnessing that resource effectively is the most important thing. So we don’t have a quantity and energy problem; it’s a collection and distribution problem.”