World's Largest Solar Thermal Power Plant Taking Shape

World's Largest Solar Thermal Power Plant Taking Shape

The outlines of a massive solar thermal power plant-the largest ever-are starting to appear in the wilderness outside of Las Vegas. The US$ 2.2 billion project, which is being built by NRG Energy, Google, Oakland, California-based BrightSource and Bechtel, the engineering and construction contractor for the project, stretches over 14.5 million square meters near Ivanpah in Mojave Desert, California. When it's finished, it will generate 377 megawatts of electricity on sunny days and it will nearly double the amount of solar thermal electricity produced in the US.

The project has been a long time coming. BrightSource first filed an application for the project in the summer of 2007. Approval took three years and official construction started in October 2011. Crews began installing the hundreds of thousands of mirrors in February of this year. Construction was temporarily slowed to accommodate the care and relocation of desert tortoises-a threatened species-found in larger numbers than expected. The project, which will generate electricity by using mirrors to concentrate sunlight to heat up water and drive steam turbines, is now expected to be finished next year in 2013.

The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant will generate power the same way as traditional power plants - by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. However, instead of using fossil fuels or nuclear power to create the steam, this plant uses the sun's energy. By this way, the plant will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 400 thousand tons annually, which is equivalent of taking more than 70 thousand cars off the road. Besides this, in order to conserve scarce water resources, the plant employs an air-cooling system to convert the steam back into water in a closed-loop cycle. By using air-cooling, the new technology uses more than 90 percent less water than older technology parabolic through plants with wet cooling.

Even as the project nears completion, the future of solar thermal power plants is in doubt. That's in large part because prices for solar panels-which convert sunlight to electricity directly-have dropped quickly in the last few years, causing at least one company to abandon plans to build solar thermal plants in favor of making ones that use solar panels. At least, solar thermal has one great strength compared to many other types of solar power: the heat it produces is easy to store, so electricity can be generated even after the sun goes down, and power can be dispatched to the grid whenever it's most needed.

But the picture may change, as according to The CNNMoney, the US Department of Commerce last month announced it would impose punitive tariffs as high as 250 percent on panels imported from China after finding that Chinese companies have been "dumping" them at prices below production costs.

As we reported earlier, on May 2011 took place ground breaking ceremony of the world's largest Blythe Solar power plant. Once construction is completed, the site will feature four solar thermal power plants with a total generating capacity of thousand megawatts of electricity. Latest development for Blythe Solar is very much unfavorable. As reported the Forbes, developer companies of the project Solar Trust of America and the Solar Millennium Group filed for bankruptcy, the former in USA and the latter in Germany.