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Google’s $168 Million Solar Gamble Gets Green Light

We’ve been following the progress of the massive Ivanpah solar thermal power plant ever since Google put up a cool $168 million to help build it, so we’re happy to report that the plant has passed the critical “first sync” milestone. Built on public land in the Mojave desert and billed as the world’s largest solar thermal plant at 392 megawatts, Ivanpah alone will nearly double the existing commercial solar thermal energy capacity of the US when it starts delivering electricity later this year.

Big Milestone For Ivanpah

CleanTechnica first took note of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) back in 2011, when Google jumped in as an investor, joining a noteworthy list of partners including the utility giant NRG, the global engineering firm Bechtel, and plant developer BrightSource Energy.

With a lineup like that it’s not exactly a surprise that construction has moved along according to schedule, reaching a halfway point last summer.

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System passes first sync milestone.

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System collage courtesy of Ivanpah.

Earlier this year, Ivanpah passed its “first flux” milestone, in which its thousands of heliostats (a three-dollar word for adjustable mirrors) were focused onto the boiler, slowly raising its temperature to just under the point of generating steam.

That was followed by the critical “steam blows” phase, which basically shakes down the steam path:

The goal of the steam blows is to clear out any mill scale or debris inside the pipes so it does not damage the steam turbine and other balance of plant equipment once operational. Steam is then distributed to each of the predetermined blow paths, or routes of piping, and released. Targets located inside the pipes are checked to determine the cleanliness factor. The process is repeated until the targets validate that the particulates have been removed.

Now, with “first sync” under its belt, Ivanpah is now set to begin selling power to Pacific Gas & Electric (PSE&G) under a power purchase agreement covering its Unit 1 station. Later this year Unit 3 will also come online for PSE&G. Unit 2 will also follow shortly, with its power going to Southern California Edison.

Renewable Energy And Public Land

In one of those sustainability coincidences that are coming fast and furious, Ivanpah is closing in on its delivery date for clean, renewable solar power just as the bottom seems to have dropped out of the auction market for coal mining on federal land.

The lack of interest in the latest federal coal auction is at least partly due to the closure of existing coal fired power plants in favor of natural gas as well as renewable energy. With the Obama Administration also clamping down on emissions from new coal plants, the future of the domestic coal power market looks increasingly dim.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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