The $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System located in the California desert is the largest thermal solar generating plant in the world. Launched in February, 2014, the power station produces energy by bouncing sunlight to the top of 450-foot-tall towers, where water is heated to create steam that drives the plant’s turbine generators. It was designed to power some 144,000 homes.
But Ivanpah has come in for criticism for delivering less than promised electric output due to sub-optimal weather conditions, and hiccups in the on-site operator’s learning curve. Now, however, production is ramping up. Corporate parent, NRG, reports that 2015 production increased by 170% in the first quarter and continued to rise on a monthly basis through Spring.
There is a lot riding on the results. If Ivanpah proves to be both practical and economical, it will increase investment — and public support — for utility-scale “power towers” as a part of the nation’s shift to clean energy generation.