Ivanpah Solar Power Facility

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Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility (1).jpg
Looking north towards Ivanpah Facility's eastern boiler tower from Interstate 15.
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is located in California
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
Location of Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is located in the US
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility (the US)
Country United States
Location near Ivanpah, San Bernardino County, California
Coordinates 35°34′N 115°28′W / 35.57°N 115.47°W / 35.57; -115.47Coordinates: 35°34′N 115°28′W / 35.57°N 115.47°W / 35.57; -115.47
Status Operational
Construction began 27 October 2010[1]
Commission date 13 February 2014[2][3][1]
Construction cost $2.2 billion
Owner(s) NRG Energy
BrightSource Energy
Solar field
Type CSP
CSP technology Solar power tower
Collectors 173,500
Site area 3,500 acres (1,420 ha)[4]
Site resource 2,717 kW·h/m2/yr
Thermal power station
Primary fuel Solar energy and natural gas
Cogeneration? No
Combined cycle? No
Cooling source Air cooling
Power generation
Units operational 3
Make and model Siemens SST-900
Nameplate capacity Unit 1: 126 MW
Units 2 and 3: 133 MW each.
Planned: 392 MW gross, 377 MW net[4]
Capacity factor 20.5% (2016 actual) / 27.4% (Planned)
Annual net output 940 GW·h (planned)[5]

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a concentrated solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert. It is located at the base of Clark Mountain in California, across the state line from Primm, Nevada. The plant has a gross capacity of 392 megawatts (MW).[6] It deploys 173,500 heliostats, each with two mirrors focusing solar energy on boilers located on three centralized solar power towers.[6] The first unit of the system was connected to the electrical grid in September 2013 for an initial synchronisation test.[7] The facility formally opened on February 13, 2014.[2] In 2014, it was the world's largest solar thermal power station.[8][9]

The facility, costing $2.2 billion was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel.[10] The largest investor in the project was NRG Energy which contributed $300 million. Google contributed $168 million.[11] The United States government provided a $1.6 billion loan guarantee and the plant is built on public land.[12] In 2010, the project was scaled back from its original 440 MW design to avoid disturbing the habitat of the desert tortoise.[13]


Aerial photograph of Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
Power tower 2 of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System under construction. The heliostat mirrors on the truck are awaiting installation
View of Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System from Yates Well Road. The Clark Mountain Range can be seen in the distance
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System with all three towers under load, Feb 2014. Taken from the I-15

The Ivanpah system consists of three solar thermal power plants on 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) of public land near the California–Nevada border in the Southwestern United States.[14] It is near Interstate 15 and north of Ivanpah, California.[15] The facility is visible from the adjacent Mojave National Preserve, the Mesquite Wilderness, and the Stateline Wilderness.[15]

Fields of heliostat mirrors focus sunlight on receivers located on centralized solar power towers. The receivers generate steam to drive specially adapted steam turbines.

For the first plant, the largest-ever fully solar-powered steam turbine generator set was ordered, with a 123 MW Siemens SST-900 single-casing reheat turbine.[16] Siemens also supplied instrumentation and control systems.[17] The plants use BrightSource Energy's "Luz Power Tower 550" (LPT 550) technology[18] which heats the steam to 550°C directly in the receivers.[19] The plants have no storage.[20]

Final approval for the project was granted in October 2010.[21] On October 27, 2010, Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and other dignitaries gathered in the Mojave Desert to break the ground for the construction.[6]

The project, which had a total cost of about $2.18 billion,[22] received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy.[23] The facility developed contracts to sell about two-thirds of the power it generated to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and the rest to Southern California Edison (SCE).[24][25][18]

The largest investor in the project was NRG Energy, a generating company based in Princeton, New Jersey. It contributed $300 million.[11] The project also received an investment of $168 million from Google.[26] However, in November 2011, Google announced that it would no longer invest in the facility due to the rapid decline of the price of photovoltaic systems.[27][28][11] $90,000,000 in financing was provided through the EB-5 Investor Immigration program, managed in this case by CMB Regional Centers.[29]

Ivanpah Solar Power Facility online 
Ivanpah's eastern tower online. Note the sunlight glare on either side of the boiler. 
One of the three towers of the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility 
A severely underexposed close-up of one of the boilers. 
Solar towers in full operation. 
Satellite photo of Ivanpah (center) 

Fossil fuel consumption[edit]

The plant burns natural gas each morning to commence the operation. The Wall Street Journal reported, "Instead of ramping up the plant each day before sunrise by burning one hour’s worth of natural gas to generate steam, Ivanpah needs more than four times that much."[30] On August 27, 2014, the State of California approved Ivanpah to increase its annual natural gas consumption from 328 million cubic feet of natural gas, as previously approved, to 525 million cubic feet.[31] In 2014, the plant burned 867,740 million BTU of natural gas emitting 46,084 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is nearly twice the pollution threshold at which power plants and factories in California are required to participate in the state’s cap and trade program to reduce carbon emissions.[32] If that fuel had been used in a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plant, it would have generated about 124,000 MW·h of electrical energy.[33] The facility used that gas plus solar energy to produce 524,000 MW·h of electrical energy (more than four times that of the referenced CCGT plant), all the while operating at well below its expected output. In 2015, the facility showed higher production numbers, with Q1 increases of 170% over the same time period in 2014.[34]

In 2015, the natural gas consumption had decreased to 564,814 million BTU, while the total energy output had increased to 652,300 MWh.[35]

The facility uses three Rentech Type-D water tube boilers and three night time preservation boilers. The California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission approved for each a stack "130 feet high and 60 inches in diameter" and consumption of 242,500 ft3/h of fuel.[36]

Economic impact[edit]

BrightSource estimated that the Ivanpah facility would provide 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction, 86 permanent jobs, and total economic benefits of $3 billion.[24][18] Elected San Bernardino County Supervisor, Brad Mitzelfelt, who represents most of the California Mojave Desert stated that the "project would create jobs for mostly Las Vegas and electricity for mostly San Francisco".[37]

The project received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy.[38] According to Synapse Energy Economics, the estimated construction cost for the facility of $5,561.00 per kW fell between that of coal and nuclear power plants.[39][40] but this does not account for the less favorable capacity factor of solar power.

In November 2014, the facility's investors applied for a $539 million federal grant to finance their federal loan.[12]


Contracted power-delivery performance of 640 GW·h/year from Units 1 and 3 and 336 GW·h from Unit 2[34] was met by 2017, following sharply reduced production in the first few years of operation, particularly in the start-up year of 2014.[41]

In November 2014, the Associated Press reported that the facility was producing only "about half of its expected annual output". The California Energy Commission issued a statement blaming this on "clouds, jet contrails and weather".[42] Performance improved in 2015 to about 650 GW·h. However, NRG Energy said in its November quarterly report that Ivanpah would likely not meet its contractual obligations to provide power to PG&E during the year, raising the risk of default on its Power Purchase Agreement.[43] PG&E had a contract to receive 640 GW·h/year from Units 1 and 3, while SCE was supposed to receive 336 GW·h from Unit 2,[34] at a price of about $200/MW·h (20¢/kW·h).[43] In March 2016, PG&E agreed not to declare the plant in default for at least four months in return for an undisclosed sum from the owners.[44]

In June 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported, "15 months after starting up, the plant is producing just 40% of [its expected more than a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year], according to data from the U.S. Energy Department."[45] Performance improved dramatically in the second year. CleanTechnica reported with respect to units 1 and 3 that "in 2015, PG&E customers received about 97% of Ivanpah’s contracted electrons, which is a massive improvement over its first year".[46]

By 2017, due to improvements, the plant was meeting the contract output requirements.[47]

The steam plant was designed for 28.72% gross efficiency.[4] The local irradiance near the area is about 7.4 kW·h/m2/day[48][49] (annual average) for a total solar energy flow in the visible spectrum of 2.717 MW·h/m2 yearly.

One heliostat mirror is a 75.6 square feet (7.02 m2) reflecting surface,[50] giving a total of 151.2 square feet (14.05 m2) per heliostat. The total plant heliostat reflecting surface results in 173,500 heliostats × 14.05 m2/heliostat = 2,437,144 m2. Based on irradiance, the intercepted solar energy flow is 2.717 MW·h/m2/year × 2,437,144 m2 = 6,621,720 MW·h yearly. Thermal yield, after taking into consideration reflection, transmission, radiation and absorption losses, assumed about 55 percent, resulting in a thermal power input to the steam turbines of 6,621,720 MW·h × 55 percent = 3,641,946 MW·hth. The resulting expected energy output would be 3,641,946 MW·hth × 28.72 percent efficiency = 1,045,967 MW·h/y, rounding up to 1.05 TWh/y.[51] The overall energy conversion efficiency = energy output / intercepted solar energy = 1,045,967 MW*h/yr / 6,621,720 MW*h/yr = 0.15796 or less than 16 percent.

These calculations are theoretical, because the facility is lacking a storage system, and each night it cools, requiring a preheating ramp-up step each morning. If the preheating is made with natural gas the estimated values are possible.

May 2016 industrial accident[edit]

On May 19, 2016, a small fire was reported when misaligned mirrors reflected sunlight into a level of Unit 3 tower not designed to collect power, requiring the tower to shut down for repairs.[52] As another of the three power-generating units was already offline for scheduled maintenance, the plant was left with only one third of its installation functional.[52] Unit 3 resumed operation on June 8, 2016. All three units were back in operation by June 20, 2016. Solar thermal electricity production in California peaked at 703 MW on that day,[53] up from 452 MW on June 7 when two units were offline.[54]


In August 2014, Ivanpah was awarded the "Plant of the Year" award from POWER Magazine.[55] In February 2012, Ivanpah was awarded the CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) Project of the Year by Solar Power Generation USA.[56]

Environmental impacts[edit]

The project generated controversy because of the decision to build it on ecologically intact desert habitat.[57] The Ivanpah installation was estimated, before operations started, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 400,000 tons annually. It was designed to minimize impacts on the natural environment compared to some photovoltaic solar facilities because the use of heliostats does not require as much grading of the land.[56] The facility was fenced off to keep out some terrestrial wildlife. However, birds faced the risk of collision with the heliostat mirrors or from burning in solar flux created by the mirror field.[58][59]

In 2012, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) issued a report on the project, citing water concerns, damage to visual resources, and impacts on important desert species. To conserve scarce desert water, LPT 550 uses air-cooling to convert steam back into water. Compared to conventional wet-cooling, this results in a 90 percent reduction in water usage. The water is then returned to the boiler in a closed process.[18]

Another potential issue is the effect of mirror glare on airplane pilots.[60] Additionally, "the power towers have 'receiver units' at their top on which the mirror fields focus their reflected light. During operation, these receiver units become extremely hot, such that they glow and appear brightly lit. ... Because they are high above the ground, these glowing receiver units will be a visible distraction to persons at many of the KOPs [Key Observation Points], including travelers utilizing I-15."[15]

According to the State of California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission Opening Briefs regarding this project, "the project itself is visually imposing. It would cover roughly 4,000 acres (1,600 ha), most of which would be covered with mirror fields. The panoramic expanse of mirror arrays would present strong textural contrast with the intact, natural character of the desert floor [and] would rise to a height of roughly 459 feet [140 m]; an additional 10 to 15 feet [3.0 to 4.6 metres] above that height would consist of lighting to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements."[15]

Desert tortoise[edit]

The Ivanpah Solar power project was built on six square miles of public land in the south central Mojave Desert.[61] Project construction was temporarily halted in the spring of 2011 due to the suspected impacts on desert tortoises.[62] Construction resumed when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) found the project was not likely to jeopardize the endangered desert tortoise.[63] BrightSource also installed fencing to keep wildlife out of the area.[64] In 2010, the project was scaled back from the original 440 MW design, to avoid building on the habitat of the desert tortoise.[13]

Many desert tortoises found on the site were relocated to other parts of the Mojave Desert. However, environmentalists raised concerns that relocated tortoises were more likely to die due to the stresses involved.[65][66]


During the trial of the plant in September 2013, thirty-four dead birds were found at the plant. Fifteen had heavily burned feathers, which staff at the plant referred to as "streamers" because they were burned in flight by the intense radiation from the heliostat mirrors.[67] From February through June 2014, a team of biologists monitoring the number of bird deaths reported a total of 290.[68]

In April 2014, the USFWS reported that 141 dead birds, including peregrine falcon, barn owl and yellow-rumped warbler had been collected at Ivanpah in October 2013. Forty-seven of the birds' deaths were attributed to solar flux.[69] According to a report by the Associated Press, "Ivanpah might act as a 'mega-trap' for wildlife, with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds that fly to their death in the intensely focused light rays."[70] Bird kill mitigation strategies were considered, including proven, environmentally safe technologies such as avian radars and LRADs to keep birds away from the site, covering ponds to discourage waterbirds from loitering, and clearing additional land around the plant to make it less attractive and more visible to birds in flight.[67][71][72][73] Some of the bird deaths occurred when the plant was in standby-mode, and the mirrors were focused above the tower. This issue was resolved by spreading the focus wider, below damaging intensity.[74]

In April 2015 the Wall Street Journal reported that "biologists working for the state estimated that 3,500 birds died at Ivanpah in the span of a year, many of them burned alive while flying through a part of the solar installment where air temperatures can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit [540 °C]".[75]

In late 2015, Brightsource released the results of the first full year monitoring bird and bat deaths at the Ivanpah solar plant. The company reported that during a year of study supervised by the California Division of Wildlife, the number of observed bird deaths, adjusted upward to account for inefficiencies of the carcass-counting, were around 3,500 bird deaths per year caused by the Ivanpah solar plant. The Ivanpah plant took steps to further reduce bird deaths.[76][77]

The initial reports of high avian casualties have been disputed ever since initial reports surfaced. In September 2014, for example, Renewable Energy World suggested "With its claim of 28,000 dead birds from Ivanpah, the Associated Press syndicated a story on every front page in America, spreading alarm about concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, which was not grounded in facts, but on one opponent's speculation."[78][79]

In September 2016, federal biologists said about 6,000 birds die from collisions or immolation annually while chasing flying insects around the facility’s towers.[80] [see Towerkill ]


Ivanpah Solar electric production is as follows (in megawatt-hours, MW·h).

Ivanpah 1[edit]

Net electricity production (All) [MW·h][81]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 5,632 4,460 4,946 9,130 15,879 23,722 12,277 16,807 19,743 17,455 15,993 5,922 151,966
2015 4,448 16,471 20,010 25,281 12,380 25,126 19,575 23,404 21,333 11,813 16,230 13,904 209,975
2016 7,599 23,686 18,427 13,284 26,006 32,875 31,796 24,403 26,860 20,616 19,663 10,440 255,655
2017 11,310 11,699 12,283 11,656 28,709 34,797 21,742 23,437 24,803 180,436
Total 798,032

Ivanpah 2[edit]

Net electricity production (All) [MW·h][82]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 2,167 1,304 5,604 9,596 13,020 15,825 14,350 12,812 14,446 18,157 15,350 6,632 129,263
2015 6,909 8,915 19,585 24,364 17,243 26,206 18,953 23,900 22,628 12,477 22,222 15,642 219,044
2016 10,070 17,615 19,436 5,626 0 9,359 33,386 25,281 25,918 20,389 21,012 11,590 199,682
2017 13,381 9,220 16,754 13,359 29,201 22,800 22,181 20,204 25,708 172,808
Total 720,797

Ivanpah 3[edit]

Net electricity production (All) [MW·h][83]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 2,686 3,866 9,409 6,107 15,885 24,728 9,340 14,451 9,562 20,401 15,834 5,587 137,856
2015 10,531 4,887 17,495 25,659 18,333 26,202 23,153 25,502 22,186 12,681 22,022 15,452 224,103
2016 7,770 25,953 20,546 19,539 17,430 23,487 33,667 15,947 29,437 20,307 21,377 12,242 247,702
2017 13,164 12,909 21,605 15,574 29,103 40,080 22,471 24,001 24,730 203,637
Total 813,298

Ivanpah Total[edit]

Net electricity production (All) [MW·h]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 10,485 9,630 19,959 24,833 44,784 64,275 35,967 44,070 43,751 56,013 47,177 18,141 419,085
2015 21,888 30,273 57,090 75,304 47,956 77,534 61,681 72,806 66,147 36,971 60,474 44,998 653,122
2016 25,439 67,254 58,409 38,449 43,436 65,721 98,849 65,631 82,215 61,312 62,052 34,272 703,039
2017 37,855 33,828 50,642 40,589 87,013 97,677 66,394 67,642 75,241 556,881
Total 2,332,127

Ivanpah was advertised as designed to produce 940,000 MW·h of electricity per year, based on its nameplate capacity and assumed capacity factor.[5] In its second year of operation, Ivanpah's production of 653,122 MW·h of net electricity was 69.5 percent of this value, ramping up from 44.6 percent in the first year. In its third year, the annual production was 74.8% of its advertised value.

Fossil fuel use[edit]

Ivanpah Solar use of gas is as follows, expressed in MMBtu as reported.

Ivanpah 1[edit]

Natural Gas Consumption [ MMBtu ][81]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 31,760 18,369 9,703 22,767 27,198 59,739 37,609 24,261 24,387 14,670 NR NR 270,463
2015 8,249 28,789 29,352 43,618 32,783 49,351 50,815 45,301 38,393 20,485 30,577 33,405 411,118
2016 25,620 37,072 52,382 27,248 53,663 59,477 59,281 48,803 38,492 32,974 24,621 21,420 481,053
2017 28,741 28,074 23,267 40,726 26,001 58,778 52,522 49,036 50,714 357,859
Total 1,520,493

Ivanpah 2[edit]

Natural Gas Consumption [MMBtu ][82]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 41,657 13,645 18,319 16,234 21,420 34,324 38,984 22,105 22,100 12,976 13,663 19,446 274,873
2015 14,630 19,544 32,438 29,600 42,063 49,999 39,171 43,540 39,894 24,949 33,994 37,370 407,192
2016 36,861 29,874 49,996 14,780 0 21,706 52,315 38,057 34,092 34,587 29,525 23,088 364,881
2017 28,550 26,091 34,818 60,626 30,140 40,428 43,744 23,295 42,716 330,408
Total 1,377,354

Ivanpah 3[edit]

Natural Gas Consumption [MMBtu ][83]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 29,309 18,498 22,532 13,624 25,321 56,292 33,508 26,337 21,487 15,390 NR NR 262,298
2015 17,473 8,460 29,072 38,642 43,708 48,695 40,115 60,249 36,547 20,547 44,193 39,975 427,676
2016 36,645 41,799 52,801 42,714 27,006 41,573 52,577 22,031 33,361 34,512 29,580 29,875 444,474
2017 30,930 27,660 32,173 35,459 26,456 65,677 47,956 43,363 52,544 362,218
Total 1,496,666

Ivanpah Total[edit]

Natural Gas Consumption [MMBtu ]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Total
2014 102,726 50,512 50,554 52,625 73,939 150,355 110,101 72,703 67,974 43,036 NR NR 774,525
2015 40,352 56,793 90,862 111,860 118,554 148,045 130,101 149,090 114,834 65,981 108,764 110,750 1,245,986
2016 99,126 108,745 155,179 84,742 80,669 122,756 164,173 108,891 105,945 102,073 83,626 74,383 1,290,308
Total 3,310,819

NR = Not Reported

See also[edit]


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