Ivanpah: Helping California Meet Clean Energy Goals
August 11, 2014
Today, solar and wind power are leading a transformation and driving our country toward a clean energy future. The state of California led the nation in clean tech for the fifth consecutive year according to a recent report by Clean Edge, and the Golden State also accounted for more than 75 percent of U.S. utility-scale solar capacity installed in 2013. According to a June report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the state’s leadership in this area is driven by its commitment to clean energy and ambitious goal to have 33 percent renewable power generation by 2020.
In the Mojave Desert, our Ivanpah facility, which recently received POWER Magazine’s 2014 Plant of the Year award, currently accounts for nearly 30 percent of all solar thermal energy operational in the entire country. It’s the largest solar project of its kind in the world and the first large-scale solar thermal plant to be built in California in 20 years.
Every day, our team of 65 employees that operates the plant is finding new ways to increase efficiency and harness as much power from the sun as we can. It’s been nearly six months, just about 175 days, since the grand opening of Ivanpah, and we are amazed at the progress the plant has achieved. As of July, Ivanpah has already produced 200,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy – a record for solar thermal production – which is half of the total solar thermal power in the state of California! That’s enough electricity to power 17,000 average U.S. homes for the entire year.*
When we introduced Ivanpah, the annual expected generation projected was developed considering the 4-year mark of plant operations, which means that we expected this new technology would take time to ramp up over this 4 year period. While we expect that this summer’s uncharacteristically rainy and cloudy weather, prompted partly by the eight named storms in the Pacific, will impact how much energy this solar-facility could generate, we are confident that Ivanpah’s long-term generation projections will meet expectations and deliver renewably-generated energy to Southern California.**
Already, innovative power generation facilities like Ivanpah are playing a significant role in California and are critical to establishing America’s leadership in clean-energy technology. Through similar partnerships, we now are the majority owner and operator at 12 major solar projects, which have combined to produce nearly 1 million MWh of electricity since the beginning of 2014. We are proud that our facilities play such a large part in helping solar energy continue to set daily records for energy production.
While we’re on a strong path to expanding the availability of solar-generated energy in the U.S. and abroad, NRG is committed to minimizing our impact on local environments and wildlife habitats and protecting wildlife at all of our facilities and work sites, including Ivanpah. A year before operations fully commenced at Ivanpah, we directed site biologists to conduct systematic surveys near the towers to monitor for avian impacts. While no avian impacts were identified by these surveys, we continued to monitor and analyze the impact of Ivanpah on the avian species as we transitioned into full operations.
We are now also focusing significant efforts on developing best practices to manage the site’s impact on all area wildlife, including avian species, by working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) to modify our operating procedures as well as to develop and implement technology that alters the plant’s control systems. On a monthly basis, we report all avian impact data to the USFWS and continue to make changes in order to develop better solutions to minimize the impact based on data collected.
We’re also studying the use of humane avian deterrent systems similar to those employed by airports and implementing other practices that go beyond conventional operational procedures to reduce bird and bat activity at the facility. These deterrent considerations include:
- - Active detection and deterrent methods, such as radar and infrared systems
- - Anti-perching devices
- - Screening and sonic deterrent methods
- - Waste and water containment and insect control to ensure that avian species are not drawn near the facility in search of food sources
- - Replacing the current conventional lighting with LED
- - Heliostat repositioning for flux management, which allows us to generate the renewable energy required by our partners in southern California while minimizing the level of flux
It’s clear that moving the needle against climate change comes with new lessons learned. It will require us all to embrace a modern energy infrastructure that provides clean energy solutions, while keeping in mind the long-term goal, and we will resiliently develop solutions to overcome challenges precisely because we consider the need for a clean energy future mandatory.
As President of NRG Renew, I’m honored to lead renewable growth for a company that works with other forward-thinking partners, like we did in developing Ivanpah with Google, BrightSource, Bechtel and the Department of Energy, to create new, cutting-edge, renewable energy facilities in North America and abroad.
Importantly, you, the American energy consumer, are a vital part of this journey and a clean energy future. If you haven’t seen Ivanpah yet, take a look here to get a better understanding of how this facility is generating solar-thermal energy. Once you see the sun’s power at Ivanpah, I hope you will take a moment to share your thoughts on the potential for solar power either here on this blog or via Twitter using #SolarIsNow.
* Average U.S. home consumes 11,700 kWh (11.7 MWh) each year
** Update regarding weather in late summer updated on 10/31/2014
Tom Doyle is the President and CEO of NRG Renew.Read their full bio