The Ivanpah Solar Energy Plant

July 11th, 2014 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

After attending Heartland’s 9th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9) in Las Vegas, we drove into the Ivanpah solar generating facility near the Mojave Desert in southern California.

Here’s a Google Earth view, with the location I drove to for a couple of photos:

Ivanpah solar generating plant as depicted by Google Earth, and the location where I took photos from.

Ivanpah solar generating plant as depicted by Google Earth, and the location where I took photos from.

With over 170,000 mirror assemblies reflecting sunlight onto 3 steam generating units, the plant is advertised to generate a peak power level of 390 MW.

There were storms in the area, and some of the surrounding land was actually flooded. Only one of the 3 solar arrays was illuminated through a break in the clouds when I was there, seen in this zoom photo:

Northernmost Ivanpah generating tower, surrounded by partly sunlit mirrors.

Northernmost Ivanpah generating tower, surrounded by partly sunlit mirrors.

This wider-angle photo now shows better solar illumination of the far tower, which is accompanied by concentrated sunlight scattered by aerosols in the air around the tower:

Two of the 3 Ivanpah units, with the far unit being illuminated by the sun.

Two of the 3 Ivanpah units, with the far unit being illuminated by the sun.

The facility cost $2.2 billion, and Google was even a partial supporter early in the project. It would be interesting to hear how much energy the facility actually generated after a year of operation.


42 Responses to “The Ivanpah Solar Energy Plant”

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  1. david dohbro says:

    It will probably fall in the same category as the wind turbine of the Welsh government that Paul Homewood pointed out:
    http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/words-fail-me/

    Roy, since you were rather avid in keep us updated the Great Lakes’ ice extend you should know that there’s apparently still ice on Lake Superior. Here’s a picture taken on July 3rd:

    https://twitter.com/TillyLaCampagne/status/484776177794441216/photo/1

    • Roy Spencer says:

      David, that Lake Superior ice photo was from early June, as I recall.

      • david dohbro says:

        Roy, I thought so. Hence, why I wrote “apparently”.

        On a different note, here’s a link to the aviation (birds) mortality caused by solar energy, including Ivanpah.

        http://alternativeenergy.procon.org/sourcefiles/avian-mortality-solar-energy-ivanpah-apr-2014.pdf

        Insects are attracted to the light, which then attracts smaller birds, which in turn attracts predatory birds. As the birds fly into the focal field of the mirrors (the “solar flux”) some of their feathers get singed, resulting in deadly crashes or impaired capabilities (flying, foraging, etc).

        Also, the ivanpah website (http://ivanpahsolar.com/) states that over the course of the plant’s 30 year operating life span, “a total of 13.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions will have been avoided.” Let’s do some math: Given that annual global anthropogenic CO2 emissions were about 35.5 billion tons in 2012, and if these are held constant over the next 30 years, then Ivanpah will have avoided (13.5M / (30×35.5B) )*100% = 0.0012%… The effect of that on global temperatures over the next 30 years is of course absolutely zero.

        • Fonzarelli says:

          We’ll just build a hundred thousand of them… (smiley face)

          • Bryan says:

            Hey, that’s not fair. It would ONLY take 10,000 of them to avoid a significant fraction (12%) of the CO2 over the 30 year period (LOL).

  2. jim2 says:

    Hmmm … that plant burns nat gas.

    It’s been lauded as the world’s largest solar power plant, but the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System could also be called the world’s largest gas-fired power plant (largest as in physical size, not gas consumption). Each of the 4,000-acre facility’s three units has gas-fired boilers used to warm up the fluid in the turbines in the early morning, to keep that fluid at an optimum temperature through the night, and to boost production during the day when the sun goes behind a cloud.

    The project’s managers, BrightSource Energy and NRG Energy, originally estimated that the plant’s main auxiliary boilers would need to run for an hour a day, on average, to allow the plant to capture solar energy efficiently. But after a few months of operation, they’re now saying they need to burn more gas, with the boilers running an average of five hours a day.

    To that end, the companies have asked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to change the project’s license to allow Ivanpah to burn more than 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a year, and the plant’s operators say that change won’t have any environmental impact.

    http://www.kcet.org/news/rewire/solar/concentrating-solar/ivanpah-solar-plant-owners-want-to-burn-a-lot-more-natural-gas.html

    • Roy Spencer says:

      Ah! Very interesting! I was wondering how they could operate during conditions where the fluid doesn’t get hot enough to generate steam. Thanks for the info!

    • Dr. Strangelove says:

      This plant would be more efficient if the gas-fired boilers run 24 hours a day and the solar heaters 1 hour a day. After a couple of years, they can add a gas pipeline, retire the mirrors, and rename it Ivanpah gas energy plant.

    • Svend Ferdinandsen says:

      An interresting information, that could be used for wind mills also. In the Ivanpah case it is to keep the fluid in the boilers hot all time, but you could extend the system to wind parks also. In fact it should be, so that you could say the park really replaces a comparable amount of conventional power.
      Alternatively the park could set up a deal with a conventional powerplant to deliver when the wind dont blow.

  3. Jimbo says:

    An unintended consequence of the uber-bright light generated when the plant is working is that it has been reported a distraction to pilots flying in and out of McCarran…

  4. Noblesse Oblige says:

    I pass by the Gila Bend (Arizona) Solar Thermal plant fairly often. It uses parabolic mirrors, no central tower. Easier to engineer but more expensive.

    Solar thermal can get much higher efficiencies than solar photovoltaic but it was late getting into the government subsidy game because the physicists were successful in selling photovoltaics. Both of course are very expensive forms of energy.

  5. CS says:

    regardless of whether it makes any difference for us to reduce CO2 emissions, and overlooking the potential bird problems, the geek in me still loves to see alternative energy sources developed (not to mention domestic sources). It is cleaner than coal (assuming the manufacture of these things isn’t too dirty, like photovoltaics), safer then nuclear, and it doesn’t turn on-and-off quite as quickly as wind or photovoltaics (some heat storage can be involved). Cost-benefit questions are legit of course, but I am sure today’s gas and coal plants are also more cost-efficient then the first ones. I for one am glad to see such projects tried out.

    • ray says:

      “…glad to see such projects tried out…”

      According to family legend, my mother was once entertaining the new Vicar.

      “Care for a drink, Vicar?”

      “No, thanks. Tried it once. Didn’t like it!”

      “Can I offer you a cigarette, then?

      “No, thanks. Tried it once. Didn’t like it!”

      “I met your charming son last week. Your only child, I believe?”

  6. Gunga Din says:

    I’d be curious to see the environmental impact study that must have been done before construction could begin.
    Did any of the usual suspect enviro groups oppose it?

  7. We offer cheap screen printed t-shirts according to your custom-made specs.

  8. Svend Ferdinandsen says:

    Is’n it funny how the information and updates disappear as the plant should start working?
    Latest update is from september 2013 and before that there were lots of updates.
    It sems to be a common feature of “green” projects. A lot of hype before the project are finished, and then you never hear a word until it collapses.

  9. jan says:

    “…then you never hear a word…”

    The “hired help” is too busy padding the expense-accounts…

  10. NoFreeWind says:

    Roy, Don’t worry to much about solar “energy”. It’s a figment of someone’s imagination.

    USA consumed 97.3 quadrillion btu’s (in 2011)

    http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/txt/ptb0103.html

    Solar produced

    .098 quadrillion btu’s (2009 data)

    http://www.eia.gov/renewable/annual/trends/excel/table1_2.xls

    Solar contriubtes .1% or 1 in 1,000 of our energy needs. I think recent data shows it is up to .2%.

    Solar’s contribution to our energy needs is similar to the effect that your Thanksgiving turkey dinner has on your overall health. But I am sure a breakthrough is just around the corner.

    note: compare $2.2 billion for Invanpah to Heartland $6 million dollar budget, which only a certain % goes to climate.
    Why Buffet, Google & Apple LOVE SOLAR POWER $2.2B vs $6M
    $Smart$ People!
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/06/08/warren-buffett-apple-mojave-desert/10067283/

  11. Well, I have asked this question before and have got no answer. So, before I ask it again, let me “pad it out” with a little foreword i.e.:

    All over America – and the rest of the “Western World” wind turbines and various other electricity generating plants are popping up (seemingly on a daily basis) even on the ocean floors these turbine-monsters have by now sunk their roots.

    It seems that nobody are “Generating Deniers” and yes I do agree, as one who has, once upon a long time ago, had a little sailing boat that sported a wind turbine on its after mast, I can safely say that the electricity thus generated, served all my daily needs (radio-communication, lighting and an automatic bilge pump + charging the battery)

    So here is the question: “Where are the cables taking the generated product away from the turbines and where are the transformers or collectors of the electrical power?

    Has anybody seen any? – Oh, by the way, in the UK, and as far as I know, most other countries, it is much too work intensive and therefore too expensive to bury EL cables in the ground, which is why there are “Pylons” criss-crossing the land scape.

    • roy says:

      “Has anybody seen any [underground cabling]?”

      YES.

      There is a new wind-farm on Romney Marsh in England. A relative has a (normal) farm there. The developer dug up the road past her house; and I saw them laying the cable. Making the best of the situation, she accommodated the workers in her holiday cottages for two months.

      As regards the “collector” of the electrical power, the cable joins up with the cable from Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, which station is about five miles away. The electricity from the nuclear power is indeed carried by overhead wires.

      The wind turbines are hardly ever turning. It is usually too windy on the Marsh. However, my son, who flies a light airplane, says they make a jolly good land-mark! So it was money well spent.

      • roy says on July 14, 2014 at 3:33 AM:
        “Has anybody seen any [underground cabling]?”

        YES.

        = = = = = = = = = = = =

        Thanks roy, that’s one case. I hope there are others.

    • Svend Ferdinandsen says:

      Se this link to an article in danish.
      http://ing.dk/artikel/hundedyrt-slutte-havmoelleparken-kriegers-flak-til-nettet-166951
      The picture in the article is from an existing park, but should give an impression of the size, and also of the cost to set it up.

  12. NoFreeWind says:

    Isn’t it amazing? The solar plant creates electricity at at least 5X the cost of traditional power?
    The plant, at 20% average yearly output of max cap of 390M will produce 57 million kWhrs/month. If a traditional plant took a 2.2 billion dollar loan and pay 6% interest for 25 years the payment would be $14 million per month. So they need to sell their electricity at 25cents/kWhr just to break even. Not really. I doubt that takes into consideration the building of new transmission lines. Also, Solar needs a 100% backup of a traditional plant, because on some days it will produce very little or nothing. Add another 1 cent for the 1.2 billion of nat gas/yr mentioned above. This is all wholesale. By making something 3-5x more expensive somehow we are “saving” something??? This is like “saving” by buying a 75K (not the real price, it’s much more expensive than that) instead of the 20K Nissan Sentra I just looked at.

    The best part is we are FORCED to buy this ridiculous high-priced electricity. They print the 2.2 Billion like a badge of honor that the public has invested in when only a complete fool would build something like this without enormous backing of the gov’t and then forcing the public to buy it.

  13. NoFreeWind says:

    I was referring to a 75K Tesla above.

  14. gregg says:

    An engineer is someone who does something for ten cents that any fool could do for a dollar. A politician is someone who does something for a dollar that any fool could do for ten cents.

  15. I have asked this question before: Do every one of the 170,000 mirrors have to be moved (powered) to follow the sun across the sky to focus light on the towers? If so, how much of the power from the station (% wise) is used to move all of these mirrors?

  16. chris says:

    for CA anyway, solar is beginning to provide much, much more than 0.1%

    http://blog.ucsusa.org/summer-solstice-portends-new-solar-energy-record-in-california-560

    June is obviously the most productive month for solar, but this is not bad:

    “California broke a new solar record on June 1, 2014, when solar production over the course of the day was more than 47,000 MWh, representing nearly 8 percent of all the electricity consumed in the CAISO region.”

    especially considering what an enormous leap it was from the previous year:

    “The 2013 average daily generation between May 15 to June 15 was roughly 16,000 MWh; the same time May-June daily average in 2014 was 41,000 MWh, a 152 percent increase.”

    Given current PV installation rates, I bet it is between 70 & 80K MWh next year.

  17. Rob says:

    Interesting – this the second time I had heard of Ivanpah this week – the previous one was a report from USFWS detailing the number of dead birds found at Ivanpah – including the causes of death.

    Something like half of the birds whose cause of death could be determined (47 of 92) dies of “solar flux” – that is they were damaged by the reflected heat from the mirrors. The report even included pictured of damaged flight feathers with curling of individual fibres resulting in loss of stability and death through trauma (crashing) or predation once flight was impossible.

    I have lost where I got this, but a quick search shows here as a link to get the report:
    http://www.ourenergypolicy.org/avian-mortality-at-solar-energy-facilities-in-southern-california-a-preliminary-analysis/

    I guess it has already done the rounds, but it was strange to see this place mentioned twice in a week.

  18. NoFreeWind says:

    >“California broke a new solar record on June 1, 2014, when solar production over the course of the day was more than 47,000 MWh, representing nearly 8 percent of all the electricity consumed in the CAISO region.”

    Oh, that 8 percent can get to 100% on some days. I guarantee it. And there is no reason a helicopter can’t land in my back yard and haul me to work.

    The $2.2 Billion dollar plant produces 390 MW at peak. At an estimated 20% output over a year we get 80MW/year of power.

    Now the “old fashioned” way (Roys way). Is to built a 1,000 MW Nat Gas plant for $675 million that will give us almost 1,000 MW’s average output/year. The engineers will decide when it needs to be shut down for scheduled maintenance, not clouds.
    http://www.odec.com/wp-content/uploads/ODEC-Selects-White-Oak-as-EPC-Contractor-3Jun14.pdf

    Now I am not calculating the fuel costs right now.
    Solar = $2.2billion/80MWyear = $27.5million/MWyear
    Nat Gas = $675million/1000MW/yr = $6.75million/MWyear

    Solar 4x Nat Gas
    Lots of things are not included in this rough, like cost of fuel for nat gas, but as mentioned above, the solar plant needs nat gas too.

    And who knows. Ivanpah just might end up being a white elephant in 10 years. Of course, no problem, we will then spend 10 billion on another crazy, very expensive idea that is somehow going to save us something????

    • With it’s $2.2 billion cost, I think that Ivanpah is already a white elephant. (At the very least, it’s a boondoggle)
      It’s a very expensive experiment. The money would have been better spent drilling in ANWR to keep the pipeline operating…

  19. chris says:

    if they had wanted to just go with known technology, they could have gone with photovoltaics. For utilities, the average installed price is now approaching $2/watt. That would have been close to 1,000 MW without any fuel costs at all.

    http://www.rtcc.org/2014/04/30/us-solar-power-installed-costs-on-course-for-2020-target/

    • NoFreeWind says:

      >if they had wanted to just go with known technology, they could have gone with photovoltaics. For utilities, the average installed price is now approaching $2/watt.

      But every time I calculate the $/kWhr for ANY solar project I end up with 25-30 cents/kWhr. It’s at least 4x more expensive than traditional. But we are told that’s a savings of some sort?

      I have a deal. You pay $40/week for gasoline. How about you give me $8,000 at the beginning of the year and you get free gas all year, as long as you don’t use more than $2,000/yr. This way your gasoline will be free all year. You can brag to all of your friends how smart you are in that you figured out a way to not pay for gasoline at the pump. It’s free!

      But we spend $2.2 billion and we save. Where does that $2.2 billion go? It’s divided into Profit, Labor and Resources. Maybe solar is a great deal because it saves our resources, it’s just that the solar plant seller make a tremendous profit? Maybe solar is a great deal because it saves resources but it is very labor intensive to build the components and the plant. If that’s the case, isn’t “energy” supposed to save us “energy” – which is labor? As far as resources go? Maybe it’s expensive because the components are expensive. But they say we will run out of fossil fuels, and we have to save it. Well them, maybe solar components are so expensive because they are scarce in our planet, and we are more likely to run out of them than fossil. Or maybe they are scare because it is so labor intensive to procure and refine them.

      This simple line of thinking was all explained in one of Roy’s books. It is all “common sense”. Common Sense in regards to economics and resources is now frowned upon in our society. Now we “save” by making energy 4x more expensive (it is actually more than that) than it was.

      The Left ALWAYS makes products and energy more expensive, that’s how they get their money.

  20. Chris says:

    $2/watt @20 years producing ~ 1.5 w/year => ~6.7 cents per watt. Producing electricity during peak load when utilities typically pay higher than average rates.

    3 years ago 25 cents per watt may have been accurate. But it’s not anymore. Meanwhile the cost of coal slowly but steadily increased though is still somewhat cheaper than solar but not a lot anymore.

  21. AJ Virgo says:

    We’ve dismissed Solar Roadways but how about a lane set with magnets specifically for charging electric cars? Neodymium magnets in a bed of insulating material to shield them from the heat of the sun. With an induction plate beneath the vehicle made from windings supplying a charge to the batteries when the car is in motion over the magnetic field. Such a system may not supply enough power to run the vehicle entirely but that is not the point. What it does is reduce charging costs and increase range.
    Everyone wants their own lane, could be a winner.

    • PaulC says:

      What? The electric car that is moving in this special lane is being charged by the magnet field? So the energy used to move the car is now being used in part to recharge itself? Sounds like a perpetual motion machine. Actually, all it really will do is create a drag on the electric car using more energy to overcome than it will create.
      Am I missing something?

      • AJ Virgo says:

        I said this system may not supply all the power needed, what it does is increase range and or reduce charging costs but it is an input from outside and therefore is not perpetual motion
        There is no measurable drag, the induction plate is non ferrous and separated from the road by an air gap maintained using actuators and transponders measuring the distance hundreds of times a second.

  22. PMHinSC says:

    In a July 5th post on WUWT Willis Eschenbach shows (Fig 1) Net CO2 Flux he obtained from the Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite “IBUKI” (GOSAT). I posed the question
    PMHinSC says:
    July 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm
    Willis Eschenbach,
    I just watched Dr Spencer’s Keynote Speech at [ICCC9].
    Do you think it would be informative to lay his “Global Greening” chart over your “Net CO2 FLUX” chart in this thread?

    Willis Eschenbach replied:
    July 14, 2014 at 9:28 pm
    If you can get me his chart I’m happy to try …

    w.

    Could you direct me (or Willis) to where the data for the Global Greening chart in your ICCC9 presentation can be found?
    Thanks in advance.
    PMH

  23. nels says:

    So, with natural gas heat when the sun isn’t shining, it becomes a fossil fuel powered unit, only without the efficiency.

  24. James says:

    I don’t think this solar array generates the electricity people are lead to believe it generates. Also, to fully power a major city, how big would an array like this have to be? What kind of environmental damage would occur from constructing something that large? All that being said, as a research type project it can make sense. For me, getting off as much oil as we can isn’t about climate. It is about national security. Stop sending our money to those who are funding the radical Islamics that would like to do us harm. I for one am open to all forms of power generation that will provide cheap, efficient, plentiful energy. Our economy runs best when energy is cheap. The next couple of decades will hopefully see some research breakthroughs.

  25. Mitch says:

    They have generated 200,000 megawatt hours to date