Ivanpah, Solar Power and Inverted Logic

Afternoon view towards the southwest from the observation deck of Ivanpah Tower 3

From the inverted logic department comes this rather curious development involving the recently commissioned and operating Ivanpah Solar Power station.

Author’s note: this is an update to a previous article discussing developments at Ivanpah

The brilliance of the sun can be seen focused on one of the three CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) towers of the Ivanpah Solar Power station, located in California’s Mojave Desert

In a bizarre and ongoing case of inverted logic and serving as another example of just how inane and vacuous some individuals can be when it comes to the importance of alternative energy, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) threatened to shut down the recently commissioned and operating Ivanpah Solar-thermal power stations because they were “unable to meet current production targets of 448,000 MWh annually“. Located in California’s Mojave desert, Ivanpah is the largest CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) station in the world and only came online in November of 2014. That such a draconian remedy was suggested for what amounts to a minor detail, for a plant that has scarcely been online a year, speaks to the scope and breadth of the problem. This detail was put in place no doubt by attorneys and politicians who don’t understand science and technology and who are indifferent to the outcome of their remedies or decisions.

CPUC’s logic: “No power [from Ivanpah] is better than most of the 390 MW.

In response to a June 12, 2015 piece in the WSJ regarding CPUC’s concerns, Ivanpah’s operator quite succinctly put the benefits in perspective as well as pointing out inaccuracies and omissions in the original story. It should also be noted here that the 12 June, 2015 piece was just one of several stories on Ivanpah the paper has published, all in a diminutive light. In her March 16th, 2016 piece, the author closes the story with this rather unnecessary and irrelevant comment

To be sure, birds also fall prey to other renewable-energy projects: Wind turbines kill between 140,000 and 328,000 birds in the U.S. every year, according to a 2013 study by researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

The WSJ’s bias against anything that isn’t linked to Big Oil and Big Coal, not surprisingly, is quite obvious. If one follows their logic, they would delight in the demise of Ivanpah and would rather see it scuttled completely, generating no power rather than some (“some” here is measured in the mega (millions of) watts range). The question begs asking

Why would you shut down a brand-new, functioning, multi-billion-dollar plant funded, in part, by grants from the DOE, that hasn’t even been operating a year, with such promise as a new technology and at such a cost in labor and sweat, without redress?

Another objection (from the science illiteracy department) is that the facility has been using its Natural Gas backup – at night and during periods of cloud cover! Question: why does a solar plant need a fossil-fuel backup? Easy Answer (surprise, surprise!): To maintain a consistent, dependable power flow. That [legal] requirement is (should be) outside the scope of any generating facility’s mandate, where certain significant variabilities (like cloud cover or lack of generating ability at night for a solar plant!) are outside the operator’s scope of control. I have to believe that this last point was evident to all involved, even the attorneys and politicians. The good news is that the CPUC has given Ivanpah a temporary stay of execution since the operators, having learned the new technology and how to fine-tune it, have significantly increased the plant’s output to within 98% of its rated capacity! In all likelihood, it will continue providing clean, carbon-free energy for decades to come.

Aerial view of all three towers of the Ivanpah Solar Power station providing clean, carbon-free energy to 140,000 California homes. Image credit: Ethan Miller and Getty Images.
Another aerial view of all three towers of the Ivanpah Solar Power station providing clean, carbon-free energy to 140,000 California homes. Image credit: Ethan Miller and Getty Images.

Some interesting facts about the Ivanpah Solar Power Station

  1. Largest of its type (CSP) in the world
  2. Three towers each with its own heliostat (mirror) field
  3. Total number of heliostats: 173,500 (2 mirrors each heliostat), each heliostat providing enough energy for 1.2 homes; said differently, each heliostat represents 1.2 homes served
  4. Annual CO2 reduction: 400,000 tons
  5. Entire facility gross energy acquisition per second: 3.64 GW of solar energy
  6. Energy generation: gross: 392 MW, nominal: 370 MW
  7. Located in the Mojave Desert, approximately 240 km southeast of Death Valley
  8. Tech giant Google a contributing partner

The Crescent Dunes Solar Power Station in operation showing its expansive heliostat (mirror) field

The “Power Tower” or Solar “Receiver” of the Tonopah Solar Power Station in the background with a section of the expansive heliostat field in the foreground.

A similar plant to Ivanpah that came online in September of last year (2015) in Nevada’s Tonopah desert, the 110 MW Crescent Dunes Solar Power Station, uses a relatively new energy storage technology where the sun’s energy is stored in the form of molten salt. The facility can continue to provide energy under full-load conditions for at least 10 hours after sunset by extracting the heat from the hot, molten salt to drive the turbines – at night! Unlike Ivanpah, Crescent Dunes does not require a fossil fuel backup to maintain output stability.

Related article: Carbon Emissions Highest Since Demise of Dinosaurs

Imagination is more important than knowledge 585px-Albert_Einstein_signature_1934(invert)
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.


7 thoughts on “Ivanpah, Solar Power and Inverted Logic

  1. The Ivanpah project does not have any storage. It is designed to provide power in place of that provided by peaking gas turbines, which are most heavily used to keep ACs running on hot days. Solar Reserve’s Crescent Dunes station in NV has salt storage, up to ~ 10 hrs worth, iirc.


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