World’s largest CSP system being built, Ivanpah, reaches halfway hump

Arial view of BrightSource's Ivanpah solar towers by Gilles MingassonThe Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (Ivanpah SEGS) solar project reached an important milestone yesterday, August 7, when it was announced that it had reached its halfway point. The project is the largest concentrating solar project being built in the world, and despite some early setbacks, including issues with wildlife habitats, the project three tower project, is on track for completion in 2013 when it will start delivering electricity to two California utilities.

Once completed, the 370 megawatt Ivanpah CSP project will supply electricity to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) under two separate power-purchase agreements. The first tower is expected to start supplying power to PG&E in mid 2013. The other two units are contracted to start delivering power to Southern California and PG&E by late 2013.

The halfway completed project, a collaboration of NRG Energy, Google, BrightSource Energy and construction partner Bechtel, began construction in October 2010, according to BrightSource spokesperson Kristin Hunter. Thus far, she said, workers have built the three 459 foot-tall boiler towers and have installed tubing within them. “In the solar field, workers are installing the project’s 173,000 pylons and heliostats, which are assembled on-site at a rate of 500 each day. To date, workers have installed more than 100,000 steel pylons and nearly 50,000 heliostats,” she said. “The heliostats are currently being commissioned with BrightSource’s SFINCS software (Solar Field Integrated Control System). We expect to test the Unit 1 heliostats and produce “first steam” later this year.” 
At this point the project has also reached the peak in terms of construction hires with 2,100 people building the project. “Construction will remain roughly at this high level throughout the rest of the summer and will then begin to slowly taper off as we approach the completion of the project next year,” Hunter said.
Early on there were concerns that the project would be deleterious to at-risk wildlife including the desert tortoise. The concern led to some delays in construction. But, “The project remains on schedule and we expect to begin delivering power to our customer PG&E in mid 2013,” Hunter said.
Thus far 58 desert tortoise were relocated, according to Hunter. “We continue to care for the juvenile tortoise living on-site in the ‘head start’ facility. We will care for these young tortoise until they are approximately five years old and able to protect themselves against predation. The survival rate for juvenile desert tortoise in the natural environment is as low as 2 percent, she said.

Reaching this point could make it easier for the company to develop future projects, like those it’s already in the works. “We are continuing to work closely with the California Energy Commission on the permitting for our next two projects, the 500 megawatt Rio Mesa solar project in Riverside County and the 500 megawatt Hidden Hills solar project in Inyo County,” Hunter said. “In total, we will be producing over 2 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy for our current utility costumers PG&E and Southern California Edison,” she said.