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Two years later

Engineers and industry agree that although challenges abound in utility-scale solar in the sunniest places on Earth, we have the technology to go big in the desert

The vast and glittering Ivanpah solar facility in California will soon start sending electrons to the grid, likely by the end of the summer. When all three of its units are operating by the end of the year, its 392-megawatt output will make it the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, providing enough energy to power 140,000 homes. And it is pretty much smack in the middle of nowhere.

Scientific American, 1 July 2013

[Ivanpah] isn’t producing the electricity it is contractually required to deliver to PG&E Corp., which says the solar plant may be forced to shut down if it doesn’t receive a break Thursday from state regulators.

Marketwatch, yesterday

H/T Anthony

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Reader Comments (120)

Oh that IS a shame!!

Mar 18, 2016 at 3:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&twisted

Phil Clarke you want Zero Carbon

Then move in with Fred and Wilma and with Pebbles and Dino Flinstone in the spare cave next to Barney and Betty Rubble.

Or Phill perhaps you don't fancy the Stone Age then try living in the remains of the Jungle Migrant camp in the Calais they ain't got no Gas or Electricity or Fresh Water.
Phill there's your perfect example of Zero Carbon

Mar 18, 2016 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Oh that IS a shame!!

Mar 18, 2016 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&twisted

Phil if you reckon this Ivanpah solar facility is such a success, I'm sure you will be keen to invest some of your own money to tide it over these trivial, short-term problems?

Mar 18, 2016 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&twisted

The only reason that the shortfall initially reported decreased was that they started burning much more gas. Initially they planned just to burn gas at dawn to get the system running but then they found out that to stand any chance of meeting their power output targets they would also have to burn the gas during the day too.

The regulators raised the percentage of thermal heat that could be generated using gas from 5% to almost 40%. The use of gas in this way is horribly inefficient. A conventional combined cycle gas plant using this much gas would produce much more energy than Ivanpah. At this point the plant has become the most inefficient and expensive gas fired power plant on the planet and it kills the wildlife too.

Another Green success story.

Mar 18, 2016 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Willshaw

Look. making what you will of Phil Clarke's rose-tinted spectacles is oe thing, but excessive schadenfreude is not really justified. If this thing worked in terms of capacity and cost it would be a good thing. As it is, it looks like it worked as designed, a subsidy-funded money pile with a secondary result of producing electricity. Any technology that would actually produce power without CO2 and was priced competitivley would be a good thing. Now I'm waiting for graphene thermocouples linked to super capacitors. Or was it the other way round? Anyhow, no-carbon power is not evil per se, we should rejoice when it works. I came here to lecture sceptics but my heart isn't really in it.

Mar 18, 2016 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

It is hard to determine what counts as success for a 'green' project.

Any data provided about their costs or output turns out to be misleading when examined closely. But I would think that failing to meet the terms of the original contract was a pretty good indication of failure.

Unless, of course, Phil Clarke is signing the acceptance papers...

Mar 18, 2016 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

The other thing to take into account is the land usage.

I recently did a back of an envelope calculation that compared Ivanpah with the first conventional power station that Google found: Didcot 'A'. Using the rated output of Didcot and half the rated output of Ivanpah (to account for night time) it works out that:

Didcot was rated at 11MW per acre while Ivanpah was rated at 0.055MW per acre.

So, when driving round the UK, every time you see a power station think what the country would be like if they all covered 200 times the area.

Mar 18, 2016 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

Jeremy Poynton

Obviously, you don't live off internet, so by implication, you don't live off grid either. So what's your point of your question?

Mar 18, 2016 at 11:15 AM | Capell

Jeez. If you don't get it I can't be bothered to answer. But as I'm a nice guy, here's a clue - "RealClimate and DeSmogBlog"

To others, never come across Ayla before. Either way, he, she or it is a waste of space.

Mar 18, 2016 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Re graphconception.

The UK only acheives 10% of rated power for solar so that would be 0.011MW per acre.

Mar 18, 2016 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

View now, before it falls into disrepair:

Mar 18, 2016 at 4:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

The plant, located about 50 miles southwest of Las Vegas in California’s Mojave Desert, cost roughly $2.2 billion and received about $1.5 billion in federal loans, according to the Energy Department.

The plant’s two units that serve PG&E are expected to generate 640,000 megawatt-hours a year

Wow. Assuming the output from the third tower is proportional, that's a levelized cost of ~$140/MWh (yes, I know levelized cost is a crummy measure for intermittent energy), for capital recovery alone. Mechanical systems need maintenance - working on gas plants we usually assume $4-$5/MWh anyway - and this has got to be more complex than a nice simple (heh) CT; maybe we're at $8 or so? The gas for a quarter of their production is about the same amount, so we are getting close to $150/MWh.
Wholesale prices in the Pacific Northwest are ~$30/MWh or so

I'm sure the business case looked better in the original.

Mar 18, 2016 at 6:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterdcardno

will no one think of the tortoises ?
apparently the local tortoises were evacuated to prevent them being run over during construction. The tortoises were provided with their very own hatchery and nursery which was promptly attacked by legions of army ants, looking for a tasty little morsel to scoff

still, as 'streamer' Clarke says, it's a small price worth paying for a (solar assisted) gas powered kettle on a stick

Mar 18, 2016 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

It was never going to work. It was always a white elephant at best.
The way to improve things is to stop all new large scale wind and solar plants. Create a pay-in fund for existing wind and solar to dismantle them at the end of their "useful" lives.
Put more money into nuke, clean coal and natural gas.
Get cheap high quality grid power to everyone on Earth. This results in an unprecedented boom time for humanity.
Clean water shortages, food shortages, and many public health issues go away.

Mar 18, 2016 at 7:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Some of the first electricity generators were hydro and Edison installed a steam generator at Holborn Viaduct presumably using coal as a fuel.
It’s amazing that these bright pioneer entrepreneurs didn’t instantly think of installing hundreds of thousands of focused mirrors in a desert somewhere as an energy source, I mean it’s obvious.

Mar 18, 2016 at 8:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Hanley


... Any technology that would actually produce power without CO2 and was priced competitivley would be a good thing. ....

Why? All the data points to the fact that human CO2 emissions have no discernible effect on the planet. Climate variation - indeed, that vast majority of CO2 variation - is natural. Beyond the obvious truism that any technology producing power competitively would be a good thing (and 'green power' has been an unmitigated disaster in this respect - so inefficient that it frequently outputs more CO2 than a conventional system does) I can see no particular advantage in dropping CO2 output...

Mar 18, 2016 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

DG, 9:45pm: "I can see no particular advantage in dropping CO2 output..."

Totally agree, most of the UK's and Europe's salad and soft fruit crops are grown under glass or in polytunnels. Most growers use heating and CO2 enriched atmospheres to increase productivity. In fact, I understand that both practices are approved by the Soil Association to qualify as organic produce.

Mar 18, 2016 at 10:17 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Oops, badly phrased comment. I did not intend to imply zero-CO2 as representing goodness. I don't care how much CO2 it makes. But if it fulfils the criteria of being efficient and cheap it's still good. Although my personal preference is a seaside nuke (fission is fine) with CHP and maybe a desalination plant on the side for when the grid doesn't want the power. When I lived within sight of Didcot I always thought it needed a large geodesic dome with water park and a big carpark. It is quite well placed for access roads from the M4 and A34. Missed opportunity, I feel.

Mar 18, 2016 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda


The point of Didcot A is that when the grid didn't want the power, Culham (JET) could take it. Researchers worked shifts overnight for just that reason.

Mar 18, 2016 at 11:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

I have watched James Bond films, so I think I have a good idea about the destruction caused by large amounts of money being used to harness the power of the sun. Lots of people die, 007 gets some serious action, with multiple bangs and explosions, and all at someone else's expense.

Mar 19, 2016 at 12:34 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

yes GC , I saw that Bond fillum. but the main baddie died in the desert after drinking a pint of Castrol.

evil oil. again.

Mar 19, 2016 at 12:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

If they are using natural gas 40% of the time, then why is this facility eligible for a 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy? I'm not surprised that the State of California changed their rules for this facility, but ignoring federal tax law is a more serious obstacle. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that they received a "grant" the same size as the federal tax credit technically aren't eligible for. (Or perhaps they initially ran the facility with little natural gas until they received the tax credit and are now using more.) It would be very interesting to see how much natural gas they are using and how much power they are generating.

Mar 19, 2016 at 1:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

And let's not forget the rent seeking backers of this boondoggle: Google and NRG.
Both should have to give back every cent of subsidy. Only the normal write-offs should be allowed.
And the environmental impacts of the cooked birds and squashed tortoises should be charged exactly as if big oil had done the deed.
If Google, sitting on their gazillions, have a great idea for energy, develop it the old fashioned way: with risk capital.

Mar 19, 2016 at 2:42 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

REPLY TO hunter @ 7:49

"It was always a white elephant at best."

The thing about a "white elephant" is that it is a gift that can't be refused and requires much on the part of the recipient after the gift has been taken home.
Green energy projects are more "pig in a poke" sorts of things. These things are purchased (public support; other people's money) with great expectations and large unknowns.

Mar 19, 2016 at 3:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

"PG&E Wants to Give Ivanpah Plant More Time to Meet Power Targets"

..."In its filing with the CPUC, PG&E says both it and its ratepayers will also benefit from the new deals. Not only would renewable energy required under state law continue to flow, but PG&E would get undisclosed “consideration” — payment — for any gap in actual and promised electricity delivery. Such payments, not included in PG&E’s current Ivanpah agreements, would apply to the first two years of the plant’s operation as well as the proposed forbearance period.

The payments could take a bit of the sting out of the high price PG&E’s customers pay for Ivanpah power: around $200 per megawatt hour, more than three times the rate set out in new agreements for electricity from solar plants that use photovoltaic panels, according to Lawrence Berkeley Lab researchers..."

And the count of dead birds is far more than Phil claims. There is zero interest by Ivanpah to honestly collect carcasses.

"Bird Deaths Continue Through May at Ivanpah Solar"
...But it's important to remember that the animal mortalities listed for Ivanpah in each month's Compliance Report are almost certainly a drastic undercount.

Of the 80 bird carcasses recorded in May, 55 were found during carcass surveys while the remaining 25 were "incidental" finds made by plant workers during normal work operations. As only about 20 percent of the facility is covered by the carcass surveys, it's reasonable to assume the actual month's death toll is upward of 300 or so.

Factors that might hide additional deaths include the lack of any surveys outside the plants' perimeter fences, despite observers having seen injured birds make it past the fence.

There's also the fact that ISEGS is apparently home to a growing population of desert kit foxes, with five active dens as of April apparently housing at least nine months-old pups. It's hard to imagine an animal better suited to scouring a project site for small dead animals before the biologists can find them than adult desert kit foxes working to feed a litter, and the foxes' presence means the official dead bird tally is almost certainly lower than the actual death toll..."

Five active kit fox dens is a huge amount for such a small area of Mojave desert. One doesn't get such a burst of predators without significant food sources.
Only twenty percent of the facility is lacklusterly searched for carcasses.

"...Two apparently new species appeared in May's roster: two lazuli buntings, strikingly colored birds common throughout open lands in the West that catch small insects in flight, and a Lapland longspur, a small songbird generally found in the Arctic in late May instead of the California desert. In fact, Lapland longspurs are rare enough in California at any time of year that range maps for the species generally exclude most of the state, as well as Nevada.

More so than in past months' Compliance Reports, the descriptions of the injuries suffered by the dead birds are rather affecting. Take for instance the record of an unidentifiable hummingbird found on May 6:

Entire body burned. Missing feathers over most of its body. Skull and keel exposed. Bill broken.

Or a Costa's hummingbird found May 2, of which the biologist simply wrote "most of tail burnt off."...

Several quite rare birds that would shut down any other economic activity. Ivanpah must have an Obama document similar to Altamont Pass's document to kill eagles and condors without legal ramifications.

There it is; classic eco-delusional wonders of science. Terrible economics, excessive environmental damage, immense damage to rare species, eco-loons waving their hands and crying 'nothing here'!

Nothing there is so correct.

"Never mind, all they have to do is to collect the fried bird caucuses and sell them to McDonalds.

Hey Presto; cash flow problem solved

Mar 18, 2016 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E"

Not a chance NCC 1701E, McD's like their meats bone free and preferable without the juicy aroma of burnt feathers.

Mar 19, 2016 at 4:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK


I will now accept your unconditional surrender, Jeremy Poynton.

Mar 19, 2016 at 5:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterAyla

Mar 18, 2016 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Marshall

You, and others, might enjoy searching for the role of Ron Pelosi, Nancy's brother-in-law, in the financing of Ivanpah and several other large scale green boondogles. How do you spell crony capitalism? Let me count the ways. With apologies to Ms Browning.

Mar 19, 2016 at 6:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterRayG

You are right, Rhoda; we do have to explore alternative sources of energy supply. What so many are crowing about is the blatant failure of so many much-lauded “alternatives” like this. A quick flit through the comments under the article Joe Public linked us to, above, shows that there are so many who believe that follies like this are the future; all I can suggest is watch their reactions should their dreams be realised, as these egregious projects are forced through solely for political gain, wrapped in carefully-composed falsehoods and in defiance of the most basic common sense. IF – big, big IF – alternative systems can be found to provide reliable, cheap energy, irrespective of CO2 emissions, then it should be grasped with both hands.

Mar 19, 2016 at 9:03 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Joe Public: Thanks for the link to MotherJones. Incredible photos of the monuments to folly. And like Radical Rodent says, the comment stream was mind-boggling. The idea that FF attract huge subsidies is really gaining traction; and the idea that green energy is competitive is a shocking indictment of the poor education these people receive. Not one person in that comment stream (pro-green) seemed to know what the cost of the power generated was nor what was acceptable to their household budgets. It's a very enlightening comment stream: an education, in fact. [sigh]

Mar 19, 2016 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield


...You are right, Rhoda; we do have to explore alternative sources of energy supply....

As far as I can tell, there is no urgent necessity to do this. Nuclear power is quite capable of providing an abundance of power for the foreseeable future. We are not short of ways to generate power.

Of course, humanity will continue to explore all aspects of technology, and may well find a better method of generation at some point - but I don't think it's a top priority at the moment - not as important as improving capability in medicine, agriculture and transport, for instance...

Mar 19, 2016 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

California Sun Fried Chicken anyone? The actual bird species might be unrecognisable, but they could sell it by the bargain bucket load.

Mar 19, 2016 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Pacific Gas & Electricity with just a fleeting dash of sunshine and flash cooked birds..

Mar 19, 2016 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Off-topic but closely related - I see from Jo Nova's blog that Tasmania, having run out of hydro, the Bass Strait cable having broken, and a BRAND NEW gas-fired power station having been shut down and dismantled by its new owners, is now having to import big diesels to provide electricity.....

Oh - and Venezuela (a major oil producer) is having to shut its industry for a week every month because its also short of electricity...

Good 'ere, innit..?

Mar 19, 2016 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

DG: well, yeah… I didn’t say it was imperative. One of the interesting things about research is that progress in one field provides benefits in others – who knows, in developing a nuclear engine that fits in a car, a miracle drug might be found, curing all ills! Just think of the non-stick pans, and these very chips on which we compute being spin-offs in the race for the Moon.

Mar 19, 2016 at 1:42 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

The only real benefit of non-stick coatings has been to allow the arguably dim Climate Alchemists, like Phil Jones perhaps, to keep their jobs.....:o)

Mar 19, 2016 at 3:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

I have always known that non-stick frying pans were a benefit of the space race, but surely bacon and eggs are less likely to stick in the reduced gravity on the moon. Is this why the squeezy ketchup bottle was also invented, because turning conventional glass bottles upside down and shaking, normally produces an 'all or nothing response' under earthly gravitational force?

Perhaps ketchup is partially resistant to gravity, and only attracted to white clothing that is difficult to wash, like space suits.

Mar 19, 2016 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The real answer to the non-stick usefulness conundrum is that it is all a big mistake.

The term should really be 'non-tick coating' which when applied to Climate Academics, allows them to remain in their sinecures because there is no time pressure when one is employed to create nonsense science for nonsense politicians.

Mar 19, 2016 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E


...Just think of the non-stick pans, and these very chips on which we compute being spin-offfs in the race for the Moon....

By all means let there be research - primarily because mankind is curious about the world which we inhabit. But let us also work from accurate data. Neither of the two products you mentioned are spin-offfs from the space race - it was rather the other way around, in that the space race depended on such product already being available.

Taking PTFE (Teflon) as an example, that was discovered in 1938. Used in the 1940s to help make nuclear weapons, by the 1950s it was being plated onto cookware. It was well established as a 'wonder plastic' before the rocket guys got their hands on it...

Mar 19, 2016 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Sun headline today.

"Oh we do like to buy beside seaside"

Brighton leading coastal property boom ,funny that I thought in 20 years time it will all be underwater

PS Nothing in there about Earth Hour

Dodgy Geezer, so if PTFE was not invented for the race to the moon, what did NASA use it for? Plumbing in an en-suite bathroom on a space capsule?

I know the Space Shuttle had problems with loos not working and the tiles falling off, but that remains a problem even with many modern bathrooms, and I am not sure how Teflon could prevent it.

Mar 19, 2016 at 7:11 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

@GolfCharlie: if PTFE was not invented for the race to the moon, what did NASA use it for...

Be my guest...

Mar 19, 2016 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Okay, DG. Obviously you want to join the likes of TheBigYinJames in my hate list, smart-alec (I mean, how can one argue with someone who is always more correcter than you?). Now, almost by coincidence, Jo Nova has an article about curiosity, and its three main forms. Certainly worth a read, and most apposite in the AGW scam debate.

Mar 19, 2016 at 10:58 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

What whent wrong in the models?
I mean sun is predictable, a powerstations performance is predictable, so how could they ever be so wrong.

Mar 20, 2016 at 12:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterSvend Ferdinandsen

> so how could they ever be so wrong

Its simple.

Everything from the output of the sun and the reflectance of the mirrors to the heat transfer to the water is all basic physics.
As we know from climate models, basic physics is trivial to model. So they input all the basic physics and their known variables into a model and, just like climate models, it ran to hot and showed them producing more energy than reality.

Mar 20, 2016 at 1:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Dodgy Geezer, so all these years I have wondered about Neil Armstrong, taking one short step for a man, fuelled by a fried egg sandwich, cooked in a Teflon pan, in near zero gravity, before a round of Golf with the Clangers, have been wasted.

Next you will ridicule Solar Power as a viable reliable power source, and destroy loads more childish fantasies.

Mar 20, 2016 at 1:25 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

TerryS, clearly this is a technological advance. Traditionally in the UK, those with a coin operated metered electricity supply, put a pound or so in the meter, and got electricity. In the US, taxpayers put a hundred or so million dollars into someones bank account, and get nothing in return. And the best thing is, it is all renewable. Apart from the money. The lack of power is always renewable, some would even say guaranteed.

Mar 20, 2016 at 1:53 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Ivanpah developer, Abengoa is insolvent and facing bankruptcy at the end of this month. Their better located US co-developer Brightsource bailed, having perhaps sniffed a coming change in the subsidy breezes in time.
Abengoa's biofuel operation in the US is already bankrupt.

All of this makes interesting speculation whether the plan to replace Belgian nuclear with (early harvest fossil-fuel) wood burners by Abengoa and partner, (Veolia, a name I have heard batted around here) will ignite in mid-air like one of the infamous Ivanpah "streamers".

Mar 20, 2016 at 2:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

What went wrong indeed!

In 1981 (or perhaps 1980) I was driving east in southern California when I came across Solar One, which must have been undergoing.a proving test. First as small brightness, low in the sky, sun-like in its intensity, hanging over the desert. No idea what it was and slightly concerned - this was southern California after all and weird things were reputed to occur in the south western US deserts. As we drew nearer, first the tower appeared then the seemingly endless rings of oriented mirrors. The cage atop the tower became too bright to look at. I then recalled a small news item in my San Francisco paper that mentioned the forthcoming opening of the new solar tower facility. What I cannot convey is the pure brute power exuded by the plant, the overwhelming science fiction- iness of the whole thing, located as it was in the high desert, seemingly miles from anywhere. What is also difficult to convey now is the huge promise that this facility held out.

Previously I had visited the geothermal plant at the Geysers, which also exuded pure power (this time audibly), and often drove through Altamont Pass with its endless rows of wind turbines.

So much promise for renewables, so much disappointment.

Mar 20, 2016 at 8:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

golf Charlie, resurrect your dreams of youth. It was not Neil Armstrong's mission but a later one that introduced the vander-materiel Teflon to the Clangers as a long desired defence against the depredations of the Soup Dragon.

Mar 20, 2016 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Alan Kendall, but the Klingons did invent Clingfilm didn't they? If the Clangers had invented it, it would be Clangfilm.

"Would you need a non-stick pan, to fry an egg in zero gravity" remains one of life's important unanswered questions. It would have been an early David Bowie song, intended as a follow-up to 'Space Oddity', but Major Tom couldn't hang around doing nothing for eternity.

Mar 20, 2016 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

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