The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is one of the largest power plants of its kind in the globe today. If you didn’t know, the Ivanpah has been widely promoted as a turning point in green energy. Brady Bunte reveals some shocking details on this embattled solar plant.
Located near the California-Nevada border, this mega power plant sprawls up to 5 miles of federal desert land. According to Brady D Bunte, the operators hint that the plant will be able to serve an amazing 140,000 city homes. Recent calculations by the California Energy Commission have however revealed some very disturbing details on the Invanpah Solar Electric Generating System. These relates to the firms operating capacity and its projected capacity.
Opened in February of 2014, the generation firm has been operating at about half its anticipated capacity in 2014. Projections rate its capacity at 8 hours of daytime uninterrupted energy supply. The low capacity has been associated with cloud covers, jet contrails, weather issues among other problems in the management. Brady D Bunte points out that the NRG spokesman, Jeff Holland, mentioned that the plant has experienced numerous challenges, equipment malfunctions and weather pattern irregularities are just a tip of the iceberg. The plant is estimated to hit is annual peak by 2018, according to the NRG Energy Inc.
What is special about the technology used at Ivanpah?
The type of technology used in the generation of electricity at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is very different. Contrary to other solar energy generation plants that relies on the photovoltaic technology, Ivanpah uses the solar-thermal technology system. This technology is also referred to as concentrated solar thermal concept.
Brady D Bunte mentions that the concentrated solar thermal concept makes use of more than 350,000 computerized mirrors that are the size of a standard door.
How it all works
The solar thermal technology relies on the set of mirrors to concentrate sunlight on boilers. These boilers are normally elevated on a 460-foot tower. The steam generated from the boilers is sufficient to drive turbines to produce electricity. The whole procedure is simple yet complicated in terms of technology. This can partly explain why Kaitlin Meese, a research analysts at Bentek Energy, refers to Ivanpah as a symbol of the progressive development in solar-thermal technology.
During the early morning and late night when the sun’s effect is no more, Brady D Bunte says that the boilers are heated up by natural gas.
Some of the problems experienced by Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System
According to Brady D Bunte, the firm has been troubled by some major issues ever since its startup. Most significant of these challenges include the following:
- Inefficiency in the alignment of the mirrors leading to considerable losses in power output.
- There could be problems with keeping the mirrors’ clean for maximum sunlight reflection in the dusty Mojave Desert.
- During its startup, the operators of the plant expected to only require just an hour’s gas power for the steam boilers. This however, was too much on the lower side as they realized when the firm became fully operational. The boilers needed to be kept running more than 4 times longer. This means that the gas powered boiling would take on average four and a half hours daily
Ivanpah and an increase in natural gas use
Because of many hurdles in operations, especially pertaining to sunlight intensity and how to maximize the power output, the state energy regulator approved Ivanpah’s request for an increased natural gas consumption. The increase has however raised more questions on the viability of the project.
The operators and owners of the plant have however risen to its defense citing aspects of operation that could only be well understood through the actual experience of operating the firm at full capacity. Brady D Bunte notes that according to a confidential agreement between the firm and 2 California utilities, the Southern California Edison and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Ivanpah has a 4 year period within which it is expected to ramp up its operations to full capacity.
From reliable sources, Brady D Bunte highlights a statement from Brightsource website. Brightsource is concurring with the owners of Ivanpah that the recent weather pattern has even defied historical averages in terms of cloudiness. It therefore associates this to the low rates power outputs in some months of the year. Brightsource is, however, very confident that in the coming years, the intensity of sunlight will be more sufficient to enable Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System to click its performance goals.