Put it in the record books. NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy and Google have opened Ivanpah, the world's largest concentrating solar power plant at 392 megawatts of capacity.
The project received a controversial $1.6 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, a loan without which the plant would “unequivocally and without doubt” not have been built, according to NRG Energy CEO David Crane. The plant, which went fully live in the Mojave desert yesterday, now makes up 30% of all solar thermal energy currently operational in the U.S.
If you've never heard of Ivanpah, it's a pretty breathtaking project. The plant produces electricity through 173,500 mirrors that track the sun (known as heliostats) and beam sunlight to the plant's three towers and their boilers. These boilers heat up, turning white hot when they reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and produce steam. The steam then powers turbines to generate electricity.
The electricity from Ivanpah is being bought by utilities Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). Both need the power to meet California's lofty renewables mandate, without which "there would be no Ivanpah," says Giga OM's Katie Fehrenbacher.