The World’s Biggest Solar Power Tower Project Goes Live in California

In February 2014, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, the largest of its kind in operation, went live in California’s Mojave Desert. The project sits along five square miles of federally owned land along the border between California and Nevada, just 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas. It boasts an astounding 173,500 heliostats, with two mirrors the size of garage doors on each, which focus solar energy toward boilers on nearby solar power towers which stretch 460 feet in the air.

The momentous $2.2 billion dollar solar energy generating system was a long time coming, and indicates a global shift toward the widespread use of renewable resources. It’s expected to power 140,000 homes in California. Whether you are a roofing contractor or a doctor, this news is great to all of those who care about the environment. Even some lights on graves are solar powered like those seen so the solar movement is coming.


A Positive Snowball Effect

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz attended a celebration of the opening of the project, and was quick to point out the implications this project has on the solar energy industry across the world, as well as here at home. “Four of the world’s five biggest CSP projects and the first five U.S. utility-scale PV projects were supported by DOE loan guarantees,” he said, “As a result, none of the next ten utility-scale solar installations required federal support.”

How Does it Work?

To the untrained eye, an aerial view of the system shows a futuristic field of metallic sheets pointing toward the sky. Those sheets are the key to the system. Each solar panel, of which there are nearly 350,000, reflects the sunlight onto the towers, which hold vats of water, which then boil and produce steam. This steam then turns the generator, and the generator produces the electricity that powers homes and businesses.

It’s impressive to acknowledge that the project can power up to 140,000 homes. As we continually use more and more electricity to run our home appliances and stay connected through devices such as a Samsung tablet or a smartphone, it’s exciting to see the technological innovations that have come from the development of solar energy resources.

Environmentalists Are Not Impressed

The generating system, which is partially owned by Google, has been met with an overwhelming amount of optimism and excitement, as it indicates a clear positive trend toward the widespread adoption of renewable energy in the private sector. It hasn’t been without its controversies though.

Along with the massive achievement for renewable energy activists, comes an unfortunate downside for wildlife enthusiasts. It has come to light that the sea of nearly 350,000 mirrors have been essentially roasting birds with the scorching heat it reflects upward into the sky. The air surrounding the towers has been said to have the potential to reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and has already been plucking birds from the sky.

The Bureau of Land Management has commenced a two-year study of the effects the facility has on nearby wildlife, but many say that simply isn’t enough. “We know solar projects are an issue as far as birds are concerned,” Michael Connor, director of Western Watersheds Project, said. “But they say, well, it’s not significant, so we’ll monitor it. So what happens now? You find lots of dead birds. Then what happens? Nothing.”

Environmentalists also say the project threatens desert tortoises and big horn sheep through its use of the already scarce water supply in the area.

A Means to a Groundbreaking End

The plant helps guide the state of California toward reaching a mandate set by the states’ legislature. Unanimously passed in October, 2013, the mandate demands that each of the three largest energy producers in the state gather a third of their energy from renewable resources, including solar and wind power.

The mandate is the first of its kind in the country, and it wasn’t passed without national attention. It requires PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to expand their energy storage practices to collectively store 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by the end of the 2020 calendar year. That translates to about 1,325 megawatts — an amount which could potentially power nearly one million homes.

Time will tell what kind of impact the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System has on the environment, including local wildlife, and the implications of the future of solar energy. For now, all we can do is wait and see. What are your thoughts on it all? Please weigh in by leaving a comment below as this impacts you whether you are a moving company like or a huge corporation, changes are coming and they are positive.



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JT was born and raised in northern suburb of Detroit, MI and now resides in Tampa, FL where he graduated from USF with a major in environmental science and policy (ESP) and a minor in English. JT is currently working as a freelance writer and volunteers at the central Florida green building council. Ever since he was a kid he had a love for nature and animals and has been an eco-enthusiast since. JT has always tried his best to do his part to help the world be a cleaner, greener, more efficient place and has always tried get others involved as well.

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