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 Electric Generating System in California
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 2010
Commission date 2014[1][2]
Construction cost $2.2 billion
Owner(s) NRG Energy
BrightSource Energy
Solar farm
Type CSP
CSP technology Solar power tower
Heliostats 173,500
Site area 3,500 acres (1,420 ha)[3]
Power generation
Make and model Siemens SST-900
Nameplate capacity Ivanpah 1 has a total capacity of 126 MW and Ivanpah 2 and 3 are both 133 MW each.
Planned: 392 MW gross, 377 MW net[4]
Capacity factor 31%
Annual generation 1,079 GW·h [5]

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a concentrated solar thermal plant in the California Mojave Desert, 64 km (40 miles) southwest of Las Vegas, with 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] Unit 1 of the project was connected to the grid in September 2013 in an initial sync testing.[7] The facility formally opened on February 13, 2014,[1] and it is currently the world's largest solar thermal power station.[8][9]

The project was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel.[10] It cost $2.2 billion; the largest investor in the project is NRG Energy, a power generating company based in Princeton, New Jersey, that has contributed $300 million. Google has contributed $168 million.;[11] the U.S. government provided a $1.6 billion loan guarantee.[12] In 2010, the project was scaled back from the original 440 MW design, to avoid building on the habitat of the desert tortoise.[13]

In November 2014, Associated Press reported that the plant 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".[14] However, in the first quarter of 2015, Ivanpah generation was up 170 percent over the same quarter in 2014 – 108 gigawatt-hours compared to 40 GWh, according to the Energy Information Administration.[15]


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 I-15.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System consists of three solar thermal power plants on a 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) tract of public land near the Mojave Desert and the California—Nevada border in the Southwestern United States[16] near Interstate 15 and north of Ivanpah, California.[17] The site is visible from adjacent Mojave National Preserve, Mesquite Wilderness, and Stateline Wilderness.[17]

The facility consists of fields of heliostat mirrors focusing 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, using a 123 MW Siemens SST-900 single-casing reheat turbine.[18] Besides steam-turbine generators Siemens supplied instrumentation and control systems.[19] Final approval was gained in October 2010.[20] On October 27, 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and other dignitaries gathered in the Mojave Desert to officially break ground on the project.[6] The project generated controversy because of the decision to build it on ecologically intact desert habitat.[21]

The project has received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.[22] The total cost of the project is about $2.18 billion.[23] The facility has contracts to sell about two-thirds of the power generated at Ivanpah to PG&E, and the rest to SCE.[24][25][26]

The largest investor in the project is NRG Energy, a generating company based in Princeton, N.J., that has put in $300 million.[11] The project has also received an investment of $168 million from Google,[27] but in November 2011, Google announced that they would no longer invest in CSP due to the rapid price decline of photovoltaic systems, and stopped its research on the project.[28][29][11]


In August 2014, Ivanpah was awarded the "Plant of the Year" award from POWER Magazine.[30] In February 2012, Ivanpah was awarded the CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) Project of the Year by Solar Power Generation USA.[31]

Power towers[edit]

The facility's three towers.

The Ivanpah plants use BrightSource Energy's "Luz Power Tower 550 technology" (LPT 550):

The LPT 550 solar system produces electricity the same way as traditional power plants – by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. BrightSource uses thousands of mirrors called heliostats to reflect sunlight onto a receiver being developed by Riley Power Inc. filled with water that sits atop a tower. When the sunlight hits the receiver, the water inside is heated and creates high temperature steam. The steam is then piped to a conventional turbine, which generates electricity.[26]

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."[17]

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 [3–5 m] above that height would consist of lighting to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements."[17]

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. 

Fossil fuel consumption[edit]

The plant requires burning natural gas each morning to get the plant started. 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."[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] If that gas had been used in a conventional fossil fuel plant, it would have generated nearly 124,000 MWh of electrical energy. That is enough to power the annual needs of 20,660 Southern California homes.[35] Ivanpah used that gas plus solar energy to produce 524,000 MWh of electrical energy (more than four times that of the referenced conventional plant), all while operating at well below its expected output. 2015 is showing even higher production numbers, with Q1 increases of 170% over the same time period in 2014.[36]

Ivanpah Solar uses two Rentech Type-D water tube 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.[37]

Economic impact[edit]

BrightSource estimated that the Ivanpah facility would involve some 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction, 86 permanent jobs, and total economic benefits of $3 billion.[24][26]

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".[38]

The project received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy.[39] The estimated construction costs for the project ($5,561.00 per KW) fall between the construction costs for coal and nuclear power plants, according to Synapse Energy Economics,[40][41] but this does not account for the less favorable capacity factor of solar power.

It was reported in November 2014 that the investors in the plant were applying for a $539 million federal grant to pay off their federal loan.[12]


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.[42]"

The steam plant is designed for 28.72% gross efficiency.[3]

The local irradiance near this area is about 7.4 kW·h/m2/day[43][44] (annual average) for a total solar energy flow in the visible spectrum of 2.717 MW·h/m2 yearly.

A claimed capacity factor of 31.4%[44] implies that the plant will operate for 365 days × 24 hours × 31.4% = 2751 hours per year. At 377 MW (net nameplate capacity) constant power, this means a generation of 377 MW × 2751 h/y = 1,037,127 MW·h/y rounding up to 1.04 TW·h/y.

One heliostat mirror is a 75.6 square feet (7.02 m2) reflecting surface,[45] for a total of 151.2 square feet (14.05 m2) per heliostat. 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, is about 55%, resulting in a thermal power input to the steam turbines of 6,621,720 MW·h × 55% = 3,641,946 MW·hth. Resulting expected energy output is 3,641,946 MW·hth × 28.72% efficiency = 1,045,967 MW·h/y, rounding up to 1.05 TW·h/y. Lack of published performance data has caused speculation that the plant is not meeting expectations.[46]

In late 2015, ownership partner NRG Energy said in its 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. Although exact terms of the PPA have not been disclosed, it would appear that Ivanpah would need to produce at about 70% of its expected capacity to meet the contract.[47] This would imply that production at Ivanpah was less than 735 GWh during 2015.


Ivanpah Solar Electric production is as follows (values in GW·h).

2015 production figures exclude December.

Ivanpah 1[edit]

Year Net Generation
Natural gas used
2014 151.96 260,595
2015 196.07 136,922


Ivanpah 2[edit]

Year Net Generation
Natural gas used
2014 129.26 264,880
2015 203.40 150,322


Ivanpah 3[edit]

Year Net Generation
Natural gas used
2014 137.86 252,732
2015 207.90 171,386


Ivanpah Total[edit]

Year Net Generation
Natural gas used
2014 419.1 778,207
2015 607.4 458,630

Environmental impacts[edit]

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.[31] However, the facilities are fenced off to keep some terrestrial wildlife out, and initial studies indicate that birds face the risk of collision with the heliostat mirrors or from burning in solar flux created by the mirror field.[51][52]

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. In order to conserve scarce desert water, LPT 550 uses air-cooling to convert the 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.[26]

Another potential issue that has been reported is the effect of mirror glare on airplane pilots.[53]

Desert tortoise[edit]

The Ivanpah Solar power project was built on six square miles of public land in the south central Mojave Desert.[54] Project construction was temporarily halted in the spring of 2011 due to the suspected impacts on desert tortoises.[55] Construction resumed when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) found the project was not likely to jeopardize the endangered desert tortoise.[56] BrightSource also installed fencing to keep wildlife out of the area.[57] 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.[58][59]


During the trial of the plant in September 2013, 34 dead birds were found at the plant, 15 of which 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.[60] From February through June 2014, a team of biologists monitoring the number of bird deaths reported a total of 290.[61]

According to a USFWS report in April 2014, 141 birds were collected at Ivanpah in October 2013 and 47 of the deaths were attributed to solar flux.[62] 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."[63] Possible bird kill mitigation strategies are being considered, such as using 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.[60][64][65][66]

In April 2015, "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]", reported the Wall Street Journal.[67]

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." [68]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Michael R. Blood and Brian Skolof, "Huge thermal plant opens as solar industry grows", Associated Press, February 13, 2014.
  2. ^ "Update from Ivanpah – May 2013". May 22, 2013. Retrieved July 22, 2013. Ivanpah Project Is More Than 92 Percent Complete 
  3. ^ a b "Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System". National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  4. ^ "NREL: Concentrating Solar Power Projects - Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System". Nrel.gov. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  5. ^ http://www.nrel.gov/csp/solarpaces/project_detail.cfm/projectID=62
  6. ^ a b c "Brightsource Ivanpah". 
  7. ^ "Business Wire: Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Reaches 'First Sync' Milestone". Businesswire.com. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "World largest solar thermal plant syncs to the grid". Spectrum.ieee.org. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "World's Largest Solar Thermal Power Project at Ivanpah Achieves Commercial Operation", NRG press release, February 13, 2014.
  10. ^ "Solar energy plant in California gets new partner in NRG". Power Engineering International (PennWell Corporation). 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  11. ^ a b c Matthew Wald (November 28, 2011). "Google Pulls the Plug on a Renewable Energy Effort". New York Times. 
  12. ^ a b La Jeunesse, William (November 8, 2014). "World's largest solar plant applying for federal grant to pay off federal loan". Fox News. investors of a California solar power plant now want a $539 million federal grant to pay off their federal loan. 
  13. ^ a b Woody, Todd (February 11, 2010). "BrightSource Alters Solar Plant Plan to Address Concerns Over Desert Tortoise". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  14. ^ Huge solar plant lags in early production, Associated Press, November 17, 2014
  15. ^ http://breakingenergy.com/2015/06/17/ivanpah-solar-production-up-170-in-2015/
  16. ^ Walsh, Bryan (24 June 2013). "Tower of Power". Time (magazine) (paper). pp. Business 1–4. 
  17. ^ a b c d "Docket No. 07-AFC-5: Energy Commission Staff's Opening Brief" (PDF). California Energy Commission. 1 April 2010. Retrieved 15 April 2010. 
  18. ^ Siemens press release Siemens to supply 123 MW steam turbine-generator set for solar thermal power plant in California
  19. ^ Siemens. "Energy efficiency. Rethinking the energy system here in the U.S.". Usa.siemens.com. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  20. ^ BrightSource secures final approval for Ivanpah solar project, BusinessGreen.com staff, BusinessGreen, 08 Oct 2010
  21. ^ Lewis, Judith (4 May 2009). "As the climate warms, environmentalists square off over Big Solar's claim to the Mojave Desert". High Country News. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  22. ^ Electric Power Daily (12 April 2011). "DOE finalizes $1.6 billion Ivanpah solar loan". Platts. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  23. ^ Wesoff, Eric; Brett Prior (April 25, 2011). "BrightSource Files for $250M IPO: A Closer Look". Greentech Media. Retrieved 2011-04-25. 
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  25. ^ Gupta, Poornima; Ayesha Rascoe (February 22, 2010). "California solar project gets $1.4 bln US guarantee". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
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  27. ^ Sadanand, Tejal (April 12, 2011). "Google goes green, invests $168 million in Ivanpah Solar power". International Business Times. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  28. ^ Google cans concentrated solar power project Reve, 24 Nov 2011. Accessed: 25 Nov 2011.
  29. ^ Google Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C), Google. Accessed: 30 November 2011.
  30. ^ "PLANT OF THE YEAR: Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Earns POWER's Highest Honor - POWER Magazine". POWER Magazine. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  31. ^ a b "The Ivanpah solar energy project named Concentrating Solar Power project of the year". REVE. February 22, 2012. 
  32. ^ "High-Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver". One big miscalculation was that the power plant requires far more steam to run smoothly and efficiently than originally thought, according to a document filed with the California Energy Commission. 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 help from fossil fuels to get the plant humming every morning. 
  33. ^ http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/PublicDocuments/07-AFC-05C/TN203064_20140915T132932_ISEGS_Order_Approving_Petition_to_Amend.pdf
  34. ^ Danelski, David (21 October 2015). "It's not easy being green: Ivanpah solar plant near Nevada burns much natural gas, making it a greenhouse gas emitter under state law.". Orange County Register (Santa Ana, California). Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  35. ^ http://www.physics.uci.edu/~silverma/actions/HouseholdEnergy.html
  36. ^ http://breakingenergy.com/2015/06/17/ivanpah-solar-production-up-170-in-2015/
  37. ^ http://www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/ivanpah/compliance/2013-03-13_CEC_Order_12-0213-8_Approving_a_Petition_to_Modify_Air_Quality_Conditions_of_Certification_TN-69908%20.pdf
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  39. ^ "DOE Finalizes $1.6 Billion Loan Guarantee for BrightSource Energy". U.S. Department of Energy Loans Program Office. U.S. Department of Energy. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 28 Mar 2014. 
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  41. ^ Schlissel, David; Bruce Biewald (July 2008). Nuclear Power Plant Construction Costs (PDF) (Technical report). Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. p. 9. 
  42. ^ Sweet, Cassandra. "High-Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver". The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar power project in California’s Mojave Desert is supposed to be generating more than a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. But 15 months after starting up, the plant is producing just 40% of that, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department 
  43. ^ "U.S. Solar Radiation Resource Maps". NREL. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  44. ^ a b "Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station (ISEGS) Case Study". CleanEnergy ACTION PROJECT. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  45. ^ "Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System". Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  46. ^ "Ivanpah Solar Project Quietly Goes Online -- Or Does It?". KCET. 30 January 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  47. ^ "Ivanpah Solar Project Faces Risk of Default on PG&E Contracts". KQED. Retrieved 18 December 2015. 
  48. ^ Energy Information Administration. "Electricity data browser - Ivanpah 1". Electricity Data Browser. Retrieved January 27, 2016. 
  49. ^ Energy Information Administration. "Electricity data browser - Ivanpah 2". Electricity Data Browser. Retrieved January 27, 2016. 
  50. ^ Energy Information Administration. "Electricity data browser - Ivanpah 3". Electricity Data Browser. Retrieved January 27, 2016. 
  51. ^ "California Energy Commission" (PDF). Compliance Docket - Ivanpah Solar. California Energy Commission. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  52. ^ "Avian & Bat Monitoring Plan" (PDF). California Energy Commission - Ivanpah Solar compliance. California Energy Commission. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  53. ^ DuHamel, Jonathan (22 August 2014). "Ivanpah solar plant wants to burn more natural gas". 
  54. ^ Danelski, David (April 16, 2015). "SOLAR POWER: Inland plants boost state to No. 1". The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, California). 
  55. ^ "Ivanpah Temporary Suspension Notice". Federal Government. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  56. ^ [1] Archived March 12, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  57. ^ California Energy Commission. "Final Staff Assessment of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System". CEC Documents Page. CEC. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  58. ^ Danelski, David (8 October 2011). "MOJAVE DESERT: First displaced tortoise released". Press-Enterprise. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  59. ^ Basin and Range Watch. "Desert Tortoise Recovery: Science and Politics Clash". Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  60. ^ a b Kaufmann, K. (2013-11-13). "Palen project raises concerns across Coachella Valley". mydesert.com. Retrieved 2014-02-17. 
  61. ^ "Preventing Bird Deaths at Solar Power Plants, Part 1". Renewable Energy World. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  62. ^ "Palen Solar Power Project - Compliance" (PDF). Docketpublic.energy.ca.gov. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  63. ^ Knickmeyer, Ellen (18 August 2014). "Emerging solar plants in Mojave Desert scorch birds in mid-air". The Sun (San Bernardino County Sun). The Associated Press. 
  64. ^ K Kaufmann, The Desert Sun (7 April 2014). "Birds going up in smoke at Ivanpah solar project". Desertsun.com. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  65. ^ Peck, Morgen (2014-08-20). "Ivanpah Solar Power Tower Is Burning Birds". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved 2014-12-07. 
  66. ^ Kagan, Rebecca A (2014-06-23). "Avian Mortality at Solar Energy Faciites in California: A Preliminary Analysis" (PDF). Palen Solar Power Project - Compliance. Retrieved 2014-12-07. 
  67. ^ "High-Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver". Once built, U.S. government biologists found the plant’s superheated mirrors were killing birds. In April, 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 instalment where air temperatures can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  68. ^ "For the Birds: How Speculation Trumped Fact at Ivanpah". 

External links[edit]