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 field
Type CSP
CSP technology Solar power tower
Collectors 173,500
Site area 3,500 acres (1,420 ha)[3]
Site resource 2,717 kW·h/m2/yr
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[3]
Capacity factor 19.7% (2015 actual) / 31% (Planned)
Planned generation 940 GW·h[4]

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a concentrated solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert. Located at the base of Clark Mountain in California, just over the state line between Primm, Nevada and Nipton, California, the plant has a gross capacity of 392 megawatts (MW).[5] It deploys 173,500 heliostats, each with two mirrors, focusing solar energy on boilers located on three centralized solar power towers.[5] Unit 1 of the project was connected to the grid in September 2013 in an initial sync testing.[6] The facility formally opened on February 13, 2014,[1] and it is currently the world's largest solar thermal power station.[7][8]

The project was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel.[9] It costs $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.;[10] the U.S. government provided a $1.6 billion loan guarantee,[11] and the plant is built on public land. In 2010, the project was scaled back from the original 440 MW design, to avoid building on the habitat of the desert tortoise.[12]

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".[13] Performance improved considerably in 2015 — to about 650 GW·h, but ownership partner 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.[14] PG&E contracted to receive 640 GW·h/year from Units 1 and 3, while SCE is supposed to receive 336 GW·h from Unit 2,[15] for which they pay about $200/MW·h (20¢/kW·h).[14] 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.[16]


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[17] near Interstate 15 and north of Ivanpah, California.[18] The site is visible from adjacent Mojave National Preserve, Mesquite Wilderness, and Stateline Wilderness.[18]

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.[19] Besides steam-turbine generators Siemens supplied instrumentation and control systems.[20] Final approval was gained in October 2010.[21] 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.[5] The project generated controversy because of the decision to build it on ecologically intact desert habitat.[22]

The project has received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.[23] The total cost of the project is about $2.18 billion.[24] The facility has contracts to sell about two-thirds of the power generated at Ivanpah to PG&E, and the rest to SCE.[25][26][27]

The largest investor in the project is NRG Energy, a generating company based in Princeton, N.J., that has put in $300 million.[10] The project has also received an investment of $168 million from Google,[28] 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.[29][30][10]


In August 2014, Ivanpah was awarded the "Plant of the Year" award from POWER Magazine.[31] In February 2012, Ivanpah was awarded the CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) Project of the Year by Solar Power Generation USA.[32]

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.[27]

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."[18]

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."[18]

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."[33] 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.[34] 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.[35] If that fuel had been used in a modern combined cycle gas plant, it would have generated about 124,000 MW·h of electrical energy. That is enough to power the annual needs of 20,660 Southern California homes.[36] Ivanpah 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 while operating at well below its expected output. 2015 showed higher production numbers, with Q1 increases of 170% over the same time period in 2014.[15]

In 2015 the natural gas consumption had decreased to 564,814 million BTU, while the total energy output had increased to 652,300 MW·h.[37]

Ivanpah Solar 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.[38]

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.[25][27]

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".[39]

The project received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy.[40] 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,[41][42] 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.[11]


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.[43]" Performance improved dramatically in the second year, as CleanTechnica reported regarding 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.[44]"

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[45][46] (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%[46] implies that the plant would 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 TWh/y. Whereas energy storage capacity is missing, it is not clear how a 31.4% capacity factor should be attained, unless a heavy natural gas contribution is taken in account.

Based on 2015 data, the 3 fields combined for a Capacity Factor of only 19.7%.

One heliostat mirror is a 75.6 square feet (7.02 m2) reflecting surface,[47] 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, assumed 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 would be 3,641,946 MW·hth × 28.72% efficiency = 1,045,967 MW·h/y, rounding up to 1.05 TWh/y.[48] 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%.

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

May 2016 industrial accident[edit]

A small fire was reported on 19 May 2016 when misaligned mirrors reflected sunlight into a level of Unit 3 tower not designed to collect power, shutting down the tower for repairs.[49] 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.[49] Unit 3 resumed operation on June 8, 2016, within three weeks of the incident. All three units seemed back in operation by June 20, 2016. Solar thermal electricity production in California peaked at 703 MW on that day,[50] up from 452 MW on June 7 when two units were offline.[51]

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.[32] 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.[52][53]

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.[27]

Another potential issue that has been reported is the effect of mirror glare on airplane pilots.[54]

Desert tortoise[edit]

The Ivanpah Solar power project was built on six square miles of public land in the south central Mojave Desert.[55] Project construction was temporarily halted in the spring of 2011 due to the suspected impacts on desert tortoises.[56] Construction resumed when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) found the project was not likely to jeopardize the endangered desert tortoise.[57] BrightSource also installed fencing to keep wildlife out of the area.[58] In 2010, the project was scaled back from the original 440 MW design, to avoid building on the habitat of the desert tortoise.[12]

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.[59][60]


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.[61] From February through June 2014, a team of biologists monitoring the number of bird deaths reported a total of 290.[62]

According to a USFWS report in April 2014, 141 birds, including peregrine falcon, barn owl and yellow-rumped warbler were collected at Ivanpah in October 2013 and 47 of the deaths were attributed to solar flux.[63] 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."[64] 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.[61][65][66][67]

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.[68]

In late 2015, Brightsource released the results of the first full year of 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, arrived at an estimated 3,500 bird deaths per year caused by the Ivanpah solar plant. The Ivanpah plant has taken steps to further reduce bird deaths.[69][70]

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."[71][72]

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.[73]


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

Ivanpah 1[edit]

Net electricity production (All) [MW·h][74]
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 19,663 245,215
Total 607,156

Ivanpah 2[edit]

Net electricity production (All) [MW·h][75]
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 20,389 167,080
Total 515,387

Ivanpah 3[edit]

Net electricity production (All) [MW·h][76]
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 20,307 214,083
Total 576,042

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 61,312 606,715
Total 1,678,922

Ivanpah was advertised as designed to produce 940,000 MW·h of electricity per year, based on its nameplate capacity and assumed capacity factor.[4] In its second year of operation, Ivanpah's production of 627,161 MW·h of solar electricity was 66.7 percent of this value, ramping up from 44.6 percent in the first year.

Fossil fuel use[edit]

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

Ivanpah 1[edit]

Natural Gas Consumption [ MMBtu ][74]
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 32,974 435,012
Total 1,116,593

Ivanpah 2[edit]

Natural Gas Consumption [ MMBtu ][75]
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 34,587 312,268
Total 994,333

Ivanpah 3[edit]

Natural Gas Consumption [ MMBtu ][76]
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 34,512 385,019
Total 1,074,993


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 1,132,299
Total 3,152,810

NR = Not Reported (yet)

See also[edit]


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  16. ^ Danelski, David (March 17, 2016). "PUC gives Ivanpah plant operators more time to increase output". The Press-Enterprise. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
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  33. ^ "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. 
  34. ^ http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/PublicDocuments/07-AFC-05C/TN203064_20140915T132932_ISEGS_Order_Approving_Petition_to_Amend.pdf
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