World’s largest solar power plant goes online

14 Feb 2014

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, with Tower 3 in the foreground, Tower 2 in the middle and Tower 1 in the background. Image via Business Wire

The world’s largest solar power plant just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, has officially begun operation and is expected to produce 392 megawatts of solar power at full capacity.

The three 450-foot solar towers that comprise the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will provide enough solar electricity to provide 140,000 California homes with clean energy and avoid 400,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equal to removing 72,000 vehicles off the road, according to the official release from its overseers, NRG Solar.

The Google-backed facility has been in the works for a number of years now with its partners NRG and BrightSource Energy, and since construction started in 2010, has received more than US$1.6bn in loans from the US Department of Energy.

The project is so large in fact, that it will now account for 30pc of the US’ entire solar energy output alone, making it the largest solar project of its kind in the world, NRG Energy said.

Tower reflection

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Image via Business Wire

Huge contributor to the economy

Like many large-scale renewable-energy projects in recent years, the construction of the towers has proved to be a major boon to the state’s economy with the creation of thousands of jobs and, at the peak of construction, employed nearly 3,000 site workers who completed more than 8.35m man-hours.

A total of about US$650m in salaries for construction and operations is expected to be paid over the next 30 years.

NRG’s president, Tom Doyle, sees the operation of Ivanpah as the starting point for what he hopes will eventually lead to total US self-sufficiency with regard to renewable energy.

“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.

“Whether it’s partnering, developing or investing, NRG will continue to provide a diverse set of solutions and technologies to get the US to the ultimate goal of providing affordable, reliable clean energy for everyone.”

While it currently holds the title of the world’s largest operational solar power plant, Ivanpah may prove to be lagging behind China’s ambition to build its own gigantic 1.1 gigawatt solar power plant in its western region of Xinjiang.  

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic