Largest solar plant comes on line, sort of – solar #10

The Ivanpah thermal solar plant has been operating all three towers in the facility since the first of the year. That according to the San Bernardino Sun on 2/3/14World’s largest solar thermal plant comes on line near state line. They hosted a grand opening on 2/13/14, as mentioned here.

All three towers are in operation. At peak point of output, while the sun is up, when there aren’t any clouds in the sky, and when the towers are actually working (see comment later in this post), the three towers will be able to produce a maximum of 392MW. Of this, 259 MW will go to Pacific Gas and Electric in the bay area and 133 MW (from unit 3) will go to SCE here in Southern California, according to the article.

On the other hand, Chris Clarke reports on 1/30 that Ivanpah Solar Project Quietly Goes Online — Or Does It? 

The group that runs the California power grid, California Independent System Operator (CaISO) releases daily data on all sorts of stuff, including the amount of electricity from solar CSP and PV. The graph of data shows a huge surge of electricity from wing-toasters but also an immediate drop. Immediate as in the next day.

One of the CaISO reports lists which power plants were in operation at 3:15 in the afternoon. Just a snapshot, but rather important datapoint for a CSP which should be at peak production at 3:15 and not shut down.

Chris Clark reports on 2/4 that Ivanpah Solar Project Apparently Spent January Offline.  He says tower 1 was down every day at 3:15 during the whole of January. There were only two days in January when both of the other towers were online at 3:15. 

Mr. Clark indicates that the Ivanpah facility…

… has almost inadvertently been designated as an experimental solar flux wildlife laboratory.

Having most of the towers down most of the days in January will make it difficult to count the number of birds killed by the solar flux of a solar plant in full operation.

The article provided me the first glimpse of the scale of those 300,000+ heliostats. They are each the size of a billboard.

More background from the San Bernardino Sun article….

By the way, the hours of maximum output is rated to provide electricity to 140,000 homes, according to the article. This is in contrast to the San Onofre nuclear power plant that has been taken off-line, which could provide power to 1,400,000 homes twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of the sun’s position and level of cloud cover.

That means we would need ten solar plants the size of this one to replace the output of one nuclear plant, plus we would need to have instantaneously available back up power from natural gas or coal plants to cover the electricity needs when the sun is down or clouds pass by.

I obviously don’t understand electricity demand (and a long list of other things).  However, it seems to my little brain that those pieces of information mean in order to replace the production capacity of San Onofre we would need ten wing-toaster plants the size of Ivanpah plus another San Onofre sized nuclear plant to provide backup power when the sun isn’t at peak, when a cloud bank wanders overhead, or the as-yet unreliable solar towers are off-line.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Could someone explain what I’m missing?

The article says the facility covers 3,500 acres of land and has 347,000 heliostat mirrors.

The 540 word article has one sentence that suggests there may be some sort of unidentified environmental issue for birds and desert tortoises.

No mention of how a third of a million heliostats will be disposed of at the end of the project’s life. Or the near-daily violation of federal law protecting migratory birds.

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