Taken from the I The bright spots of Ivanpah are clearly visible from above Las Vegas and further. It is near Interstate 15 and north of Ivanpah, California. Fields of heliostat mirrors focus sunlight on receivers located on centralized solar power towers. The receivers generate steam to drive specially adapted steam turbines.
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But the jury is out on whether the massive complex, with megawatts of net generating capacity, should be viewed as a model for emerging sustainable energy systems in the desert Southwest and other global sunbelt regions. Built by Bechtel Corp. It relies on , sun-tracking mirrors that direct highly concentrated solar radiation at boilers sitting atop three foot-tall towers. The resulting solar-generated steam is harnessed to drive a conventional turbine and generate electricity.
Here are four good reasons why: 1. Burned birds and other ecological impacts The amount of land required for very large-scale solar projects such as Ivanpah presents a daunting array of environmental concerns, ranging from wildlife to water to Native American artifacts.
The fact that Ivanpah is on federal property under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management added another layer of regulatory complexity involving land use. But a nearby golf course still uses more water than Ivanpah, according to BrightSource.
Wildlife concerns may be the bigger environmental problem. While relocation of desert tortoises emerged as a major issue early on, forcing Bechtel to temporarily halt construction at one point, avian impacts may have a bigger effect in the end.
But California energy regulators are not taking the issue so lightly. Regulators also have their eye on bird kills at other large-scale solar projects PDF relying on photovoltaic PV and parabolic trough technologies.
Both Abengoa and SolarReserve store concentrated solar radiation in molten salts, providing valuable energy production during evening peak hours. Solana provides up to six hours of power after the sun goes down, while Crescent Dunes is designed to offer up to 10 hours of storage. While BrightSource probably was cheaper than utility-scale PV projects when the contracts were signed in , this is no longer the case.
According to the DOE, the average price for utility-scale PV dropped from about 21 cents per kilowatt-hour in to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour in Some contracted prices for large-scale PV have fallen below 7 cents, according to a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Medium-sized PV projects in California today also are hitting lower prices than Ivanpah. For example, the CPUC in approved 23 separate PV projects up to 20 megawatts in capacity each at a weighted average price below 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, after time-of-delivery adjustments. Moreover, PV cost reduction is helping to create new opportunities for small-scale distributed solar power at residential and commercial buildings.
Eventually, it could emerge as a disruptive force to the traditional utility business model, and affect procurement of large-scale resources, including solar thermal power.
Victim of its own success According to a CPUC report PDF , based on current contracts, California utilities are well on the way toward meeting their mandate of 25 percent renewable energy by , and interim requirement of 25 percent by This is because companies such as BrightSource and its partners succeeded in early bidding rounds. Now BrightSource has delivered.
Ivanpah is on line. To date, no BrightSource follow-up project has been licensed, financed or started construction in California or anywhere in the Desert Southwest. Renewable energy mandates almost are certain to increase over time, creating new opportunities.
Top image of heliostats via BusinessWire Topics:.
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System
Centrale solaire d'Ivanpah
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