At the California-Nevada border, among miles and miles of desert, sits three 459-foot towers, which are surrounded by more than 300,000 mirrors. These mirrors, controlled by a large system of computers, bounce the sun’s rays to the top of the towers, where water is then turned into steam, providing electricity for homes in California.
Known as the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the massive solar project on Thursday finally announced it’s now operational and delivering electricity. The project, which received a $1.6 billion loan agreement from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, is a joint effort between NRG, Google and BrightSource Energy.
At full capacity, the facility’s trio of 450-foot high towers produce a gross total of 392 megawatts (MW) of solar power, enough electricity to provide 140,000 California homes with clean energy and avoid 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to removing 72,000 vehicles off the road.
Ivanpah is considered the largest solar project of its kind, and accounts for nearly 30 percent of all solar thermal energy operational in the U.S. The setup is the first to use BrightSource’s solar power tower tech, which is said to possess 173,500 heliostats that follow the sun’s trajectory. Ivanpah first broke ground back in 2010, and at one point created a workforce of up to nearly 3,000 site workers.
The entire Ivanpah site spans across around 5-square-miles of federal land—we actually passed it by on our way out to Las Vegas last month for CES. The setup is hypnotizing, and looks like something out of an alien world. Each mirror—remember, there are more than 300,000—measures 7-feet high and 10-feet wide. Walking among them, I’d imagine, would be like exploring a blinding metallic forest.
While energy to 140,000 homes is just a fraction of California’s population of more than 38 million people, the project’s completion proves the technology can be distributed at scale. With the Ivanpah project now complete, BrightSource said it will turn its attention to bringing its technology to the international market.