The World's Largest Solar Plant Just Torched Itself

The World's Largest Solar Plant Just Torched Itself

Misaligned mirrors are being blamed for a fire that broke out yesterday at the world's largest solar power plant, leaving the high-tech facility crippled for the time being. It sounds like the plant's workers suffered through a real hellscape, too. The Ivanpah Plant (Image: ISEGS)

The World's Largest Solar Plant Just Torched ItselfDamaged steam ducts and water pipes. (Image: San Bernardino
County Fire Department via AP)

A small fire was reported yesterday morning at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California, forcing a temporary shutdown of the facility. It's now running at a third of its capacity (a second tower is down due to scheduled maintenance), and it's not immediately clear when the damaged tower will restart. It's also unclear how the incident will impact California's electricity supply.

Putting out the blaze was not easy task, either. Firefighters were forced to climb 90m up a boiler tower to get to the scene. Officials said the fire was located about two-thirds up the tower. Workers at the plant actually managed to subdue the flames by the time firefighters reached the spot, and it was officially extinguished about 20 minutes after it started.

Located on 4000 acres of public land in the Mojave Desert, the sprawling concentrated solar thermal plant is equipped with 173,500 heliostats -- each with two mirrors -- that focus sunlight on boilers located on top of three 140m towers. The tremendous heat created by the concentrated solar power produces steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. The plant, the largest of its kind in the world, features a gross capacity of 392 megawatts, enough to power 140,000 homes. Each of the computer-controlled solar-reflecting mirrors is about the size of a garage door.

The World's Largest Solar Plant Just Torched Itself

This image shows one of the plant's three towers when it's functioning properly and online. (Image: Aioannides)

A spokesperson for the plant said it's too early to comment on the cause, but it appears that misaligned mirrors are to blame. The Associated Press quoted Mike McClintock, the San Bernardino County fire captain, who said that some mirrors delivered sunlight to a different level on the third unit, causing electrical cables to catch fire.

Inevitably, the incident reveals the inherent dangers of concentrated solar power as well as the need to ensure that the mirrors are always on target. Concentrated solar power plants, in addition to being a menace to themselves, can also pose a hazard to local wildlife. Last year, a plant in Nevada torched over a hundred birds when they flew through the plant's "flux field".

It's yet another setback for the Ivanpah facility. For the past few months, the plant has been unable to meet the output levels stipulated in its power purchase agreement, and it was given an extension until 31 July 2016 to improve performance. This fire obviously isn't going to help.


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    Lucky it didn't torch the gas lines - gas it uses to boil the water to steam to jump start it's operation each morning.

      Agreed, the design could use some improvement.

      To be fair, the plant still ends up about 3x cleaner than a gas-turbine.

        Unless of course you factor in the environmental destruction that's caused by mining the minerals and the energy used to manufacture, transport and erect the damn things! Hubby wonders why they don't used water filled black tubing that would heat the water sufficiently to turn turbines to produce energy. There again they could just frack!

          If of course you factor in the environmental destruction that's caused by mining the minerals and the energy used to manufacture, transport and erect every other kind of power station... then what you just said becomes irrelevant.

    The World's Largest Solar Plant Just Torched Itself and they have the nerve to call it clean energy

      Yeah, one failure shows that this is useless, lets just ditch it and go back to coal...

      Hey Tones... haven't seen you around these parts for a while. Still unsure what the term "clean energy" means I see.

      Yeah! That fire that lasted 20 minutes sure is a devastating indictment of solar power in general! We'd better stick to fossil fuels.

    At least it doesn't leak radiation.

      Uhmmm... Solar Radiation, it is leaking that stuff everywhere now or it could just be harmlessly beaming the extra solar radiation into space, lighting our little planet up like a Christmas tree in the process - what a tempting target for interstellar vandals.

    That dirty, dirty sun! Rabblerabblerabble!

    There would be two easy fixes for this problem.

    1. Put in mechanical travel limiters so the mirrors could not physically shoot below the receiver at the top, no matter what the controls do.

    2. Put in serious insulation on the tower below the receiver.

    Problem solved.

    But no, lets go back to coal, there is no problems with that technology.

      The issue with Option 1 is that the sun doesn't trace the same path through our sky throughout the year, so a fixed mechanical travel limiter will only work for part of the time.

      Based on the following video link, Option 2 would only buy them some time to recognise and fix the problem anyway:

      I rekon we just keep burning coal. It's naturally occurring, so it's healthy.

        You also forgot to mention coal is a renewable energy source made up of dead plants and animals.

        Last edited 24/05/16 8:32 am

        And unlike all absurdly useless and criminally EXPENSIVE 'renewable energy' alternatives, coal fired is cheaper, many times more reliable and above all else, it is available 24 / 7, which is an essential requirement the leftard greenies either don't understand, or don't care about. They hate capitalism and success, so they want to drag us all back into the stone age with them and their ludicrous green dystopia. Well no thanks, I'll pass...

    Those solar power towers are so tall the top is in a different time zone to the bottom!

    Correct me if I am wrong. Dead animals make oil. Dead trees coal.

      You're wrong.

      Both originate with plants. Coal is mostly, in essence, fossilised peat (from swamps). Oil originates primarily from marine organisms (which is why so much of it is found under the ocean).

      It took me about two minutes to look that up. Are you sure you're on the Internet?

        A fossil fuel, petroleum is formed when large quantities of dead organisms, usually zooplankton and algae [NOT PLANTS!]
        Apparently your 'research' is wrong-maybe you should spend longer than 2 minutes??

          The taxonomy of algae varies depending on the algae in question, but the majority are placed under Kingdom Plantae (i.e. plants) or Kingdom Eukaryota (neither animals nor plants). Zooplankton are, of course, animals, but animals are a minority in any ecosystem.

          If you want to use Wikipedia as a reference, look at the right-hand bar for each of the types of algae (green, brown, red and chlorophyta) and notice that none of them are listed as animals.

          So it turns out that oil is basically plants and other species that used to be classified as plants (way back when I was educated, everything was Plant, Animal or Fungi) plus a few animals.

          In any case, it's still wrong to say "Dead animals make oil." It's most correct to say "Dead land organisms make coal. Dead marine organisms make oil."

          Still, robo3147 was correct that oil isn't entirely plant-based. It's just not mostly animal-based.

          I apologise for snarking a bit on my previous reply, but really, is it so difficult to look these things up? And robo3137 did explicitly ask to be corrected if wrong.

            This power plant kill birds.
            "America’s cats, including housecats that adventure outdoors and feral cats, kill between 1.3 billion and 4.0 billion birds in a year, says Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., who led the team that performed the analysis. Previous estimates of bird kills have varied, he says, but “500 million is a number that has been thrown around a lot.”

            Solution; burn cats.

              But floating the cats in balloons over the power plant would be so much work!!

              I suppose we could CATapult them over instead, which have the added advantage that the cats would still die if the power plant failed to kill them.

              (For the record, I quite like cats, but am quite aware that they can be predatory little monsters.)

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