The energy company broke ground in the California desert for its Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in October 2010. The massive solar plant will use about 170,000 mirrors to capture the sun's energy. Software tracks the position of the mirrors and makes fine adjustments to each mirror for the best power draw.
The Ivanpah solar plant, which will be the world's biggest when it's completed in 2013, uses adjustable angled mirrors to focus the sun's rays for power collection. Credit: BrightSource Energy.
The $2.2 billion Ivanpah complex, which is backed by a $1.6 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan and private capital, will generate about 370 megawatts of power per year for PG&E and Southern California Edison when it's completed in 2013. That's enough to power 140,000 homes, and nearly twice the amount of solar power generated commercially last year in the U.S., according to BrightSource. But it will still just be a supplement to existing power generation sources.
The problem, Wachs says, is that many states are not equipped to transmit that power. Last year, about 11,000 miles of natural gas pipelines were installed in the United States. In comparison, says Wachs, about 700 miles of solar transmission lines were installed in 2010. So while Los Angeles can benefit greatly from the Ivanpah plant, other cities are currently left without access to its solar power.
That's the case for Minneapolis, says city energy manager John Millberg. The city has a goal to use about 1 megawatt of renewable energy per year for all city services by 2014. Today, the city uses about 800 kilowatts per year, aided by a rooftop solar installation on the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Millberg says Minneapolis would be open to purchasing power from another state that has a massive solar power plant, but today the costs are too high. The city does have plans to install a transmission line for wind energy that's generated south of the city, he adds.
Solar roof panels provide about 5% of the power used by the Minneapolis Convention Center.Credit: City of Minneapolis.