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Clean Power Ivanpah Plant of the Year concentrating solar power

Published on August 5th, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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A 131-Year First: POWER Mag Plant Of The Year For Ivanpah Solar

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August 5th, 2014 by  

For the first time in its 131-year history, POWER Magazine has conferred its prestigious “Plant of the Year” award on a renewable energy electricity plant. That would be the Ivanpah concentrating solar power plant in California, which just went online as one in a set of five such utility scale power plants supported partly by the US Department of Energy. Ivanpah also had a substantial investment from Google, so it looks like the company’s bet on concentrating solar power has paid off.

 Ivanpah Plant of the Year concentrating solar power

Ivanpah concentrating solar power plant (early model, photo by Steve Jurvetson)

The Ivanpah Concentrating Solar Power Plant

We have to admit that we fudged the number a bit —  Power Magazine has been publishing for 131 years but it started giving out the Plant of the Year award 40 years ago — but still, that’s pretty impressive.

We’ve been following Ivanpah for several years along with our sister site PlanetSave, partly because of the high degree of interest it has attracted from leading renewable energy players in the public and private sectors.

In addition to $168 million investment by Google and a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, the project involved NRG, BrightSource Energy, and the global engineering firm Bechtel.

The POWER Magazine Plant Of The Year Award

Our focus has been mainly on the concentrating solar technology. For a fascinating look into the nitty gritty of the plant’s construction and the reasons why it garnered Plant of the Year, check out Thomas W. Overton’s article on the Ivanpah award at PowerMag.com.

The Plant of the Year award has been called Power Magazine’s most prestigious award. In addition to numerous firsts in terms of construction and the numerous obstacles in the plant’s way, Overton also lists some of the obvious factors that came into consideration in granting the award to Ivanpah:

The largest solar thermal plant in the world, the first large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) project in the U.S. to employ power tower technology, and the biggest project funded to date by the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Loan Projects Office (LPO).

That’s nothing compared to the detailed rundown Overton provides in the article. Seriously, go check it out for an in-depth look at what went into building the plant, including changes in design that were made to accommodate environmental concerns.

The heliostats alone are worth the Tolstoy treatment (heliostat is solarspeak for the mirrors that concentrate sunlight in a concentrating solar power plant). Ivanpah includes 173,000 heliostats, which according to Overton’s info involved 22 million rivets and another 20 million other components.

As for getting the heliostats to the site, Overton did the math so we don’t have to: it involved a dedicated transportation system capable of delivering 500 heliostats into the field daily, for two years.

Trouble Ahead For Concentrating Solar Power…

The Energy Department has been touting 2014 as the “Year of Concentrating Solar Power,” and it has made a pretty good case that the technology has a utility-scale role to play in the US energy future.

However, Overton notes that the sheer size of Ivanpah-style projects presents a significant roadblock in terms of environmentally sound site selection. The issues include bird deaths related to the heliostats,  although those numbers (from dozens to a few hundred) evaporate compared to the estimated 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds killed annually by domestic cats in the US.

…Or Not

Although concentrating solar power plant construction may stall temporarily, our bet is on a long term recovery, especially when you consider CSP plants that include thermal energy storage.

 

Aside from cost-effectiveness of the technology itself, over the long run the environmental cost of site selection for CSP plants is going to look pretty good compared to the risks and impacts of fossil fuel harvesting.

On top of climate change  and well-documented public health effects that includes local impacts such as chronic economic malaise (coal), earthquakes and water resource competition (oil and gas fracking), and of course, spills.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • josetony

    I wonder if using regular PV solar panels in the same area could provide the same amount of energy probably way cheaper than CSP and less complicated.

    • Calamity_Jean

      I agree; if CSP doesn’t have at least a few hours of storage, the builders might as well have used simpler, cheaper PV.

    • jeffhre

      Yes, Ivanpah is a demonstration and technology innovation project – ie If no one ever does this, the price will never come down.

  • JamesWimberley

    Ivanpah is not a clear success. On the plus side, it has pushed the envelope on CSP steam temperature to 565 deg C, a large increase from previous practice and Abengoa’s conservative designs. But it turned out very expensive, and has no storage – CSP’s great selling point since Gemasolar. No follow-up is SFIK on the stocks.

    If CSP makes it into large-scale deployment, it is more likely to come from Abengoa’s incremental improvements with credible pricing and delivery, or else from a breakthrough in waterless Brayton-cycle designs at very high temperatures. Air at 1000 deg C into a gas turbine, that would be something.

  • Robert Pollock

    I see a “distributed” grid as maybe the most critical aspect of a 21st century National Energy Plan. Centralized energy generation is the problem, it can’t address the needs of small enitities, so much of the electricity generated is lost to transmission degradation and more often, just dumped to ground. This plant is a mistake.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Transmission losses in the US run about 3%. That’s small.

      There’s a role for both large centralized and small distributed generation. Right now any type of generation that helps us cut fossil fuel use is a boon.

  • tibi stibi

    what is the latest status of the project? on their website the news is almost a year old :(

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Supposedly, it’s up and running, but it’s apparently unclear how much it is actually up and running. a handful of articles in February about that: http://cleantechnica.com/tag/ivanpah/

      • tibi stibi

        thanks i follow this site closely :)

        but February is halve a year ago, i don’t hope there is something going wrong there …. :S

  • http://www.michaeljberndtson.com/ Michael Berndtson

    Which power plant won the 1974 award? Here’s the past winners starting in 1999.

    2013 AEP’s John W. Turk, Jr. – coal

    2012 AES Gener’s Angamos Power Plant – coal

    2011 KCP&L’s Iatan 2 – coal

    2010 Luminant’s Oak Grove Power Plant – coal

    2009 City of Springfield’s CWLP Dallman 4. – coal

    2008 Wisconsin Public Service Corp.’s Weston Unit 4 – coal

    2007 MidAmerican Energy Co.’s Walter Scott, Jr. Energy Center Unit 4 – supercritical coal

    2006 Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s Springerville Unit 3 – coal

    I got bored trying to figure out what type of plant won the annual award. Here’s 1999 to 2005.

    2005 Southern California Public Power Authority’s Magnolia Power Project

    2004 Reliant Energy’s Seward Project

    2003 Constellation Energy’s High Desert Power Plant

    2002 JEA’s Northside CFB Repowering Project

    2001 PacifiCorp’s Klamath Cogeneration Project

    2000 ATCO Power’s Poplar Hill Facility and Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.’s St. Francis Station

    1999 Trigen Energy Corp./Cogeneration Corp. of America’s Grays Ferry Cogeneration Facility

    • Offgridman

      Checked a couple of the others that you hadn’t which from their names weren’t obviously fossil fuels (cogeneration projects). In spite of my hopes for the High Desert plant it turned out to also be one that was built for natural gas in anticipation of the fracking boom.
      This is still a big change for this publication though as previously they have concentrated on the higher efficiency or reduced emissions of the fossil fuel plants.
      And a change to be celebrated, because at least they are starting to look at the technologies of the future, even if that change isn’t happening as fast as some of us would like.

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