What are those bright towers in the Mohave Desert on the way to Las Vegas?

Have you seen the bright towers and mirror like panels in the middle of the Mohave Desert while traveling to or from Las Vegas?

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About 45 minutes south of Las Vegas on Interstate 15 in  California’s Mojave Desert , approximately 5 miles from the  Nevada, California border — sits an engineering and technology marvel.

 

This is the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) one of the largest solar thermal farms in the world, offering a very real solution to helping fight climate change.

The 377 megawatt net solar complex uses 170,000 mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto three massive towers to produce solar electricity. This  is on par with a medium sized fossil fuel power plant. Energy storage and natural gas turbine technology will help the solar farm deliver close to 24/7 power  with greater power reliability than a solar panel farm. The boilers atop the towers will be the point where all of the sunlight from the heliostats is focused. These boilers will shine bright — like light bulbs — when turned on, and the intense heat from the sun’s rays will turn water into steam, that will in turn run turbines and create electricity.

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System which began commercial operation in 2013, is delivering power to PG&E and Southern California Edison. The project is currently the largest solar thermal power plant in the world utilizing BrightSource Energy’s LPT solar thermal technology. Ivanpah was constructed by Bechtel and is operated by NRG Energy, one of the project's equity investors.

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The price tag for Ivanpah wasn’t cheap. It cost billions of dollars to build, with a big chunk of the funds coming via a loan guarantee from the U.S. government and was built on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

If you don’t believe that the U.S. needs to de-carbonize its electricity supply, then Ivanpah might seem like an extravagance. But California certainly believes in investing in carbon-free energy, and thanks to its renewable portfolio standard has encouraged PG&E and SCE to buy the power from the site.