Since 2013, the Mojave Desert has been home to the largest solar farm in the world, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. After four years of construction the massive power plant is nearly ready to be put to the test. The $2.2 billion dollar venture utilizes more than 170,000 mirrors to collect incredible amounts of sunlight and direct it to adjacent water towers.
The trapped sunlight raises the temperature of the water, eventually producing steam which rotates turbines in order to generate a form of electricity. This electricity will in turn be used to power 140,000 California homes. As a result of using water and sunlight, BrightSource Energy reports that carbon emissions will be reduced by more than 400,000 tons annually.
In comparison to other solar farms in the world, the Ivanpah solar farm is far more powerful. It generates nearly 370 megawatts of electricity in comparison to the Agua Caliente solar farm which generates approximately 275 megawatts.
Why was the remote desert region selected as the location?
The Mojave Desert region was selected as it receives reliable sunlight 330 to 350 days per year. It is a renewable source of energy which has been long sought for, however not all environmentalists agree with the methods. Some argue that the construction of these mirrors and turbines threatens the desert’s ecosystem. The large amount of heat generated could prove to be dangerous to birds or desert tortoises.
BrightSource Energy reports “Regulators said they anticipated that some birds would be killed once the Ivanpah plant started operating, but that they didn’t expect so many to die during the plant’s construction and testing,” the Journal notes. ”The dead birds included a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a variety of warblers and sparrows.” This is surely alarming, and only took place during the testing phases of the power plant. Surely measures must be placed to ensure the safety of all animals.
In addition to the $2 billion price tag for developing the system, the project has also received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. BrightSource Energy has agreed to sell about two thirds of the energy to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Primary investors in the venture include NRG Energy and Google, who both put forward $150 million plus.
Economic impacts estimated by BrightSource involve 1,000 jobs during the peak of construction of the plant, following 85 permanent jobs, and a total economic benefit of $3 billion.
What is in store for the future in solar farms?
With a history of recurring blackouts and a ascending population, India has invested heavily in a renewable source of energy. The plans are to “build a solar project bigger than Manhattan”. In comparison to the Ivanpah solar plant, which generates 370 megawatts of electricity, the future Indian solar plant sitting near Sambhar Salt Lake in Rajasthan is planned to have a capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts.
It doesn’t stop there, India has already made goals for the future solar energy. By 2022, it wants more than 20 gigawatts of energy emission. And by 2050, it hopes to generate as much as 200 gigawatts.