The largest ever solar thermal power project, backed by Google, has been officially opened.
More than 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors, known as heliostats, will follow the sun’s path through the sky to reflect sunlight onto boilers housed in the top of three 140m-tall towers that will generate steam to electricity-producing turbines.
At full capacity, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert will produce 392MW of power, enough electricity to provide 140,000 California homes with energy and avoid 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to removing 72,000 vehicles from the roads.
“Cleantech innovations 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,” said Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar which will operate the plant.
“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.”
The solar energy harnessed from Ivanpah’s Units 1 and 3 are being sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under two long-term power purchase agreements, while the electricity from Unit 2 is being sold to Southern California Edison under a similar contract.
The project, which achieved commercial operation on December 31 last year, is a joint partnership between NRG, Google, and BrightSource Energy, who provided the technology for the plant.
“The completion of this world-class project is a watershed moment for solar thermal energy. With all three units now delivering power to our customers’ specifications, BrightSource has demonstrated its solar power technology at scale,” said David Ramm, chairman and CEO of BrightSource Energy.
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."
Bechtel provided engineering, procurement, and construction services for the project, which received a $1.6bn (£960m) loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office.
“Achieving commercial operation is a result of a well-coordinated effort between the Ivanpah project affiliates and Bechtel,” said Toby Seay, president of Bechtel’s power global business unit.
“Consistent teamwork with a focus on safety and quality is key to executing a project of this size and complexity. It was a privilege to be a part of an iconic project that will bring clean, sustainable power to tens of thousands of households for years to come.”