Take A Tour Of This Insane Solar Thermal Energy Plant

Take a Tour of California's Insane Solar Thermal Energy Plant

Sometime in the next few months, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will flip the switch on the largest solar plant of its kind in the world: a 377-megawatt, 3500-acre solar thermal energy system. It's located in California's Mojave Desert, near the Nevada border, and it's ridiculously big. '

'I would suggest going to check it out in person during your next Vegas binge weekend, but from the 15 freeway it's little more than a silvery blur -- a rippling, mirage-like, silvery blur that feels like it might sear your retinas if you look at it too long. So it's a good thing they've just posted this incredible virtual tour.

Take a Tour of California's Insane Solar Thermal Energy Plant

A boiler atop one of three towers where the mirrors focus the sun's light. It really does glow white-hot like this.

Unlike traditional photovoltaic cells, where semiconductors create an electronic circuit to convert solar radiation into energy, Ivanpah uses "heliostats", or giant computer-controlled mirrors, that focus the sun's energy onto boilers located atop 140m towers, creating steam that powers turbines, thus creating energy. The water is then air-cooled and recycled in a closed-loop system.

Take a Tour of California's Insane Solar Thermal Energy Plant

Heliostats are mechanically moved as needed to maximise the sun's reflection.

Since photovoltaics are static and have to be positioned very precisely, the heliostats are more low-impact, requiring minimal land grading. The plant estimates it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 360,000 tonnes per year, the equivalent of taking 2.1 million cars off the road during its 30-year lifecycle.

Take a Tour of California's Insane Solar Thermal Energy Plant

It's like a funhouse! Heliostats waiting to be put into place.

When finished the plant will have over 300,000 heliostats, or enough mirrors to replace all the windows of the Empire State Building 54 times.

Take a Tour of California's Insane Solar Thermal Energy Plant

The heliostats are assembled in here, using metal poles which are drilled into the ground.

Ivanpah will power over 140,000 California homes during peak hours. The plant also features investors like Google and a $US1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

Take a Tour of California's Insane Solar Thermal Energy Plant

Here's where "pad bonding" happens, attaching the mirrors to their steel frames.

But it hasn't been all sunshine and Google investments for Ivanpah. After determining that the habitat was threatening 200 desert tortoises, the tortoises were relocated to other parts of the Mojave Desert at a scandalous cost of $50,000 per tortoise.

Here's a video of construction, where you can watch the mirrors spin into place like a giant disco ball.

Last month, President Obama's climate action plan set a goal to permit enough wind and solar projects on public lands to power six million homes by 2020, and from the number of new projects underway, it looks like it might happen. About an hour northeast, construction has started on Copper Mountain 3, a 250-megawatt, 1400-acre photovoltaic plant outside Boulder City, Nevada. This is the third phase of a massive development will also be one of the largest solar plants in the world. SOLAR POWER SMACKDOWN, y'all.

But they both better watch their backs: The Blythe Solar Power Project, a 485-megawatt, 7000-acre photovoltaic project is expected to start construction in 2014. In the meantime, Ivanpah reigns supreme -- check it out in all its glory on the virtual tour.

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    Any idea of the price of this solar farm?

    Compared it to the price of a nuclear, gas powered or coal plant producing the same amount of energy?

    My only gripe is it produces only when it is sunny, its maximum capacity will it be reached only on a perfectly sunny day with no clouds? Plus the obvious at night the thing just sits there?

      Solar thermal is a littler more lenient than PV, as it's a heat process rather than straight electrical conversion and there is some storage of energy within the heating medium. This allows the system to work at or close to full efficiency even when there is less sun, say when a cloud comes over.

      Depending on what they use as the heating medium (say, molten salt) and the level of insulation you can have cases where they will continue to generate far into the night without any light/heat at all. Solar thermal is a pretty amazing technology. One major disadvantage? keeping those mirrors clean...

    IMHO solar-thermal should be used to power liquid-fuel synthesis of one kind or another. Say, something like this:

    Liquid fuel is one of the hardest nuts to crack when it comes to sustainable energy, and while solar's intermittent nature makes it somewhat unsuitable for baseload power the sun is an amazingly abundant and efficient energy source when it can be harnessed. Use its power on a process like this, and sustainable diesel/petrol is a reality.

    "Insane"? I see the point of the choice of word, but it is one of the sanest things ever done in 2013.

      It's not a Gizmodo US headline without, "Insane", "Ridiculous" or "Terrifying"

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