Ivanpah CSP plant connects to grid for first time

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Ivanpah, the world's largest thermal solar power plant, hit a milestone target yesterday by generating power that was fed into the grid for the first time.

Power generated from the initial “sync” testing at Unit 1 of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will go to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which has a power purchase agreement (PPA) for energy from two of the three units. Unit 2 is under a PPA with Southern California Edison. It was not revealed how much power Unit 1 produced yesterday and whether it is now consistently adding power to the grid. Proof-of-concept testing will also be conducted at Unit 2 and 3 in the coming months.

Ivanpah was built in partnership with NRG Energy, Google and venture-backed BrightSource Energy. The $2.2bn project was backed by $1.6bn from the Department of Energy's 1705 loans programme that also controversially awarded Solyndra $535m less than a year before its collapse in 2011.

David Ramm, executive chairman of BrightSource Energy, said: “This is yet another major milestone that we have successfully achieved as Ivanpah approaches completion.

“Ivanpah is the showcase project for BrightSource’s power tower technology and technical expertise. Validation at this scale demonstrates the viability of our technology as BrightSource increases focus on international markets and applications for concentrating solar power.”

Ivanpah is the largest solar thermal plant in the world, spanning 3,500 acres of public land in the Mojave desert, 40 miles south of Las Vegas. Once fully operational, the 392MW plant will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes annually. Ivanpah’s three power tower units will also nearly double the amount of commercial solar thermal energy capacity now operating in the United States.

Rick Needham, director of energy and sustainability at Google, said: “At Google we invest in renewable energy projects that have the potential to transform the energy landscape. Ivanpah is one of those projects. We’re excited about the project achieving this first sync – a landmark event along the path to completion.”

Ivanpah is expected to be fully operational by the end of this year. However, schedules for completion of the project have slipped for developers BrightSource and power engineering company Bechtel. BrightSource has also had to scale back its pipeline of US projects. In April, PG&E and BrightSource mutually agreed to terminate its agreement to supply the utility with power from its 250MW Hidden Hills project. In January, BrightSource announced another contract cancellation with Edison International for its Rio Mesa 2 project near Blythe, California.

BrightSource was founded in 2006 when the cost of PV made CSP an attractive investment. However, the company has not been able to keep pace with PV price declines. Last year, BrightSource withdrew from an initial public offering at the last minute. In June this year, the founding chief executive, John Woolard, resigned soon after the company announced it was repositioning as a technology provider  with its partners Alstom and Abengoa.

“As our technology is validated at increasingly greater scale, BrightSource is evolving from being a US project developer to becoming a global technology provider that also offers development support as well as engineering and operational services,” the company said in a statement.

The following month the company raised another $35m from undisclosed investors.

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