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Google invests US$168 million in world’s largest solar power tower plant

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April 13, 2011

Model rendering of ISEGS, the world's largest solar power tower being built in California

Model rendering of ISEGS, the world's largest solar power tower being built in California

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Google has chipped in a US$168 million investment in what will be the world's largest solar power tower plant. To be located on 3,600 acres of land in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) will boast 173,000 heliostats that will concentrate the sun's rays onto a solar tower standing approximately 450 feet (137 m) tall. The plant commenced construction in October 2010 and is expected to generate 392 MW of solar energy following its projected completion in 2013.

Although solar power tower development is currently less advanced than the more common trough systems, they offer higher efficiency and better energy storage capabilities. Parabolic trough systems consist of parabolic mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto a Dewar tube running the length of the mirror through which a heat transfer fluid runs that is then used to heat steam in a standard turbine.

Solar power tower systems such as the ISEGS on the other hand focus a large area of sunlight into a single solar receiver on top of a tower to produce steam at high pressure and temperatures of up to 550 ° C (over 1,000° F) to drive a standard turbine and generator. The ISEGS also uses a dry-cooling technology that reduces water consumption by 90 percent and uses 95 percent less water than competing solar thermal technologies. Water is also recirculated during energy before being reused to clean the plant's mirrors.

Model rendering of the ISEGS heliostats

Overshadowing the 20 MW PS20 solar power tower plant in Spain, the scale of ISEGS can't be overstated. It will be the first large-scale solar power tower plant built in the U.S. in nearly two decades and will single-handedly almost double the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the U.S. today and nearly equal the amount of total solar installed in the U.S. in 2009 alone.

The entire complex will consist of three separate plants developed by BrightSource Energy that will be built in phases between 2010 and 2013. The energy generated from all three plants will be enough to supply more than 140,000 homes in California during peak usage hours, with the project contracted to provide 1,300 MW to Southern California Edison and 1,310 MW to Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Google says it has now invested over $250 million in the clean energy sector but its $168 million investment in the ISEGS is the company's largest investment to date. The size of the investment reflects Google's faith in the technology and it hopes that other companies will follow its example and make similar investments in renewable energy.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
41 Comments

Someone should tell google that wind turbines would of been a far better investment. Not only would it have a much smaller foot print and thus much less environmental impact. it would also be cheaper, faster and at far less risk. Maybe this is all part of Googles plan to make a mighty weapon to zap satellites out of the sky... IF so I hope they record it and put it on youtube..

Michael Mantion
13th April, 2011 @ 01:14 am PDT

^ maybe they have already read this :

"Wind and wave farms could affect Earth's energy balance" & "The sun is our only truly renewable energy source"

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028063.300-wind-and-wave-energies-are-not-renewable-after-all.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

t2af
13th April, 2011 @ 06:31 am PDT

How much cheaper are wind turbines? I believe 1 blade on a 3 blade wind turbine costs $2million. 1 solar panel costs $15,000 from Samsung. Just wondering about the math behind your comment.

Gabriel Mak
13th April, 2011 @ 06:34 am PDT

Let's see, 392 MW on 3200 acres is about 109 kW/acre. There are 4047 sq meters per acre, so this works out to 27 W/sq m. If we take a conservative 300W/sq m for 24 hrs of sunshine that works out to an efficiency of 9%. That's kind of sad, really.

Mckevin
13th April, 2011 @ 07:09 am PDT

@Michael

I was talking with a bloke that builds and repairs blades for wind turbines and he said their is about a ton of waist from each blade constructed. Also when repairing the blades, all dust and chemicals generated from the repair, floats over the nearby land. The turbine companies "reimburse" the local farmers (if any) for estimated loss crops from these repairs. "thus much less environmental impact"? I truly wonder.

Go solar go.

Bicycle Commuter
13th April, 2011 @ 07:29 am PDT

I thought Stirling clusters were the wave of the future for solar. Steam cycles are inherently inefficient - about 40% of the input energy just goes out the condenser. On the other hand, Stirling engines convert heat directly into mechanical energy, bypassing the Rankine cycle.

As an added bonus, each Stirling cluster is independent of the others. One goes out, the rest keep generating.

Desert Tripper
13th April, 2011 @ 07:45 am PDT

Wind - Solar - Wave ... we need all forms of clean energy to offset dirty energy now in use.

9% efficiency is NOT the issue, there's millions of acres of desert, it's $ per Watt !

AUSRA in Nevada has estimated that a plot of desert 192 miles on a side could power the entire USA !

All we need is $ invested to build the solar plants, as stated in the article.

EGM
13th April, 2011 @ 07:47 am PDT

The Roscoe Wind Farm (largest in the US) has a capacity of 781MW, cost a billion dollars to setup and occupies nearly 100,000 acres of land (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roscoe_Wind_Farm). This article implies that all 3 solar plants will be setup on the same 3200 acres when completed, with a final generation capacity of 1,300 MW. In comparison, it's not sad at all. Actually, its more like Wow!

DWH
13th April, 2011 @ 07:50 am PDT

@Michael

The USA has thousands of square miles of blisteringly hot desert that is not used for ANYTHING. Solar power towers are the ultimate solution for the world. Turbines, while romantically nice, didn't even work for the millers of ancient Holland!! (They had to keep getting up in the middle of the night, or whenever it was windy to mill!!). Nothing has changed!!

Whilst solar does not work at night, the advances in salt batteries and for power storage are gathering pace....

As regards risk?? Pointing sunlight at a tube of water is hardly a risk??!!

sutski123
13th April, 2011 @ 08:29 am PDT

Where did California find the wind for wind turbines. They have Sun, so only plausible investment is make electricity out of Sun. Just putting a number of wind turbines doesnt really give better results, you have to calculate wind speed and at what altitude

Chris7527
13th April, 2011 @ 08:41 am PDT

This is some really postiive news, good for Google. At least they seem to care about humanity. I believe that the "the nuclear industry is waging a war against humanity" (quote from Dr. Busby, Senior atomic Energy Commision expert, now resigned)

IP
13th April, 2011 @ 08:56 am PDT

>The USA has thousands of square miles of blisteringly hot desert that is not used for ANYTHING.

the ecosystems that live there might disagree. Just because there aren't green plants and fuzzy cute animals doesn't make it any less of an ecosystem.

John Topping
13th April, 2011 @ 09:30 am PDT

Cmon guys... we need it ALL the renewable energy forms. I side with @EGM because he's right that its not just solar, but wind, tide, whatever we can innovate to save our butts.

In regards to @t2af your article is right in stating that Solar power is our own truly renewable energy source because its FUELS ALL EARTHS SYSTEMS. These include the wind and tide that are indeed other forms of capturing what was originally energy from the sun. This means its just as good- its energy and its renewable so its GOOD period.

Its very silly to think that tidal or wind collection could impact the earths systems. I mean, think about all the Skyscrapers in all the big cities and your own house or apartment that acts a WALL blocking any wind to pass through it. If wind turbines let wind still pass through, they could not really possibly impact wind from blowing any more than buildings or mountains or trees.

Even if we could theoretically slow down the wind in the atmosphere, again this is super silly, it would actually be a good thing because remember one of the major impacts of Climate Change is increased severity of storms. Do you want your city to be the next Katrina? But on a more credible note, the sun is constantly fueling the wind systems of the planet and its not burning out soon. Trust me, the wind will still blow.

Grant C.
13th April, 2011 @ 09:53 am PDT

I just want something cheap I can put on my roof and power my little house.

This won't help me when power lines go down in a storm. Google is also funding a fuel cell system at their main plant. I don't have natural gas here to fuel that either.

I have heard of 3rd world places that heat up a 2x2ft block of steel with a sunlight concentrator and can cook on it all night long. I don't have a problem cooking in an emergency.

I also want to charge my future electric car so I better go with photo voltaics. I guess I could use the car batteries to run my house when power is out.

John Russell
13th April, 2011 @ 11:34 am PDT

Google your awesome!!!! That's why we love you!!!!!!!!!!

timothylittlefield
13th April, 2011 @ 12:14 pm PDT

We have two wind turbines north of town. Combined they are supposed to generate 1.3 Mwhr per year. Half the time one of them is not spinning because of problems. One was down for repairs last year from May to October. Ours are white, which attracts lots of insects and the blades get coated with bug juice, which cuts down efficiency. The bugs draw the birds which get struck. Bird blood, guts and feathers diminish blade efficiency even more. Dead birds litter the ground beneath the blades. I and 2,650 other residents of Lincoln contributed monthly, as part of our electric bill, to the building of those turbines. I now wish I hadn't.

The "salt battery" technology was worked out during the research on Solar Power Tower I and II over 20 years ago at Barstow, CA. Various universities, corporations and countries contributed to the research. They concluded their test by generating 10Mw continuously, day and night, for 30 days, non-stop. Spain was the first to make a MAJOR commitment to SPII at Seville. That 20Mw plant is scheduled to be upgraded to over 300Mw within a couple years. Wikipedia gives several articles on Solar Power and its adoption.

@McKevin: If I divide the power distributed by coal & nuke plants by the sum of the areas of the plants themselves, their supply lines and the coal and Uranium mines, and the spent rod storage facilities, I'd probably get an "efficiency" rates of much less than 1%. But, both you and I know that isn't how thermodynamic efficiency is calculated. Solar plants, like coal and nuke, create steam to drive steam turbines which spin generators. Coal is about 40% efficient and nuke is about 30%. Solar power is in the same range and has the added advantage that the fuel is delivered free of charge to the power station, there is no waste fly ash to dispose of, and no expensive and highly radioactive spent rods to be concerned about.

10Mw SPIIs on a quarter sections of land on farms in the Midwest would be an excellent way to restore rural communities to financial stability. Farm communities were built around farming with tractors, which the farmers had to maintain. To support them were farm implement stores, banks, grocery stores, clothing stores, cafes, gas stations, auto stores, parts houses, etc... Instead of farming Corn farmers could "grow" electricity and feed it right into the power grid. Terrorists might take out a 300 Mw power station but it would be harder to take out 30 power stations of 10Mw size.

Facebook User
13th April, 2011 @ 01:02 pm PDT

We are 100% sure that the sun rises everyday and behind the clouds the sun is still shining. Energy from the sun is sustainable and environment friendly while long lasting perhaps for a lifetime. Developing countries need to replicate this solar project.

Facebook User
13th April, 2011 @ 02:06 pm PDT

@IP: When the regulators believe nonsense like that, it makes the industry less safe. It prevents the operator from sharing information on the oddities that pop up. In the United States, nuclear energy has kill fewer people in the last thirty years than coal, oil, gas, or even wind.

Slowburn
13th April, 2011 @ 03:14 pm PDT

Why does no-one talk about the broad and long term here? What about the source? Wave energy is a derivative of wind energy, which is a derivative of heat energy which is a derivative of SOLAR ENERGY.

Gas -> Oil -> dead organic matter -> plant matter -> SOLAR ENERGY (except methane -> organisms -> plant matter -> SOLAR ENERGY). Coal -> half used! plant matter -> Solar Energy. Biomass (plants) -> Solar Energy.

The only power sources that don't directly source from solar energy are nuclear forms (fission, fusion) which is just what the sun is doing for us. I dislike current forms of nuclear power because compared with the sun, we suck at it and are constantly generating "nuclear waste" which is really stuff we either don't have the technology to use, or are too scared to build the plants to use. I'm not a nuclear physicist, but I know we don't use much of the energy inherent in the fuels, as evidenced by the fact that the "waste" is radioactive for thousands of years.

Anyway, back to solar power and efficiency. Every time you change states, you lose efficiency, yes? By extension, the further from the source the less efficient. So, why would you ever discourage solar power innovation and adoption? It seems like the most logical field to develop to me.

Erik Monty
13th April, 2011 @ 03:57 pm PDT

@Facebook User: Coal, oil, and natural gas is cheaper, and provides power at night.

Slowburn
13th April, 2011 @ 04:09 pm PDT

did they "git" the land for pennies an acre? less contribution to obama re-election fund? in the future this land will be valuable for minerals, but betcha the "investors" pay little if any real estate taxes to bankrupt county govm't, so residents are further down food chain. i'll also bet that we the tax payers can no longer hunt jacks and cottontails ! as i'm approaching my ninetieth birthday, an don't get va benefits, i supplement my food and clothing with game. having been in borneo, etc learned to head hunt tribal leaders for food, is jerry brown a tribal leader? hmmm.

oldealchemist
13th April, 2011 @ 05:27 pm PDT

At this rate the the whole world's energy (2008) can be supplied by ~6% of the *entire* Sahara desert (or ~1.2 times the US-Mex Chihuahuan Desert). Not too bad I'd say ... enough deserts around to spread out the energy harvesting so that we don't need to waste money on power transmission lines. Time we put some effort and cash into making this possible instead of indirectly subsidizing the Big Oil cos.

xerion
13th April, 2011 @ 05:36 pm PDT

Sounds like a great idea, but I would just add why not make double use of the site and build a mini 'Las Vegas' type city using the buildings to hold the mirrors and tower.

This would give a quicker return on investment, could provide a new 'science park' or 'Silicon Valley' type base and avoid wasting the valuable land area.

The income from renting the buildings could then be re-invested in further growth of the 'City' outwards as well as more research into refining and developing the new technologies.

...surely 'multi-usage' of land and buildings would be an even greater benefit to the green cause!

Paul Liversuch
13th April, 2011 @ 06:00 pm PDT

I really wish Australia would get in board and start building solar towers. After all, we do get a lot of sun out here. Having a could of dozen of these babies around the place would more than likely supply all of Australia with power for most of the year.

Truly a wasted opportunity.

Ben Miles
13th April, 2011 @ 10:04 pm PDT

so they have to make over a million dollars per home to pay it off?

Facebook User
13th April, 2011 @ 11:19 pm PDT

It seems to me that a lot of the negative comments are coming from people with little or no understanding of the science and engineering principles of energy production.

Please people try learning something about this subject before commenting on it.

Jason Estrada
14th April, 2011 @ 05:11 am PDT

Way to go Google! Gabriel, there are no solar panels. They are mirrors. This is a solar powered steam turbine. Not that much different that hydroelectric turbines.

If we used just 10% of area of the Mojave desert. We could build 440 of these farms, which would provide enough power for 1/5 of the entire US populace. So rounding up would be $74 billion dollars. Which is less than 10% of the so called stimulus plan for the US. Would have put people to work and help wean us off of foreign oil.

Am I the only one seeing this? Two of these farms would power almost all of the state of Idaho. We get plenty of sun.

VoiceofReason
14th April, 2011 @ 06:41 am PDT

Wind turbines are basically just very low efficiency solar plants; the advantage they have is that the insolated area is huge (i.e. the planet). The downside is, they basically turn kinetic energy of the air in the form of wind into heat, which on a large enough scale has to do something to the planet. I'm not sure if I want to find out...

We should get the Air Force to build solar power satellites in orbit: power generation, self-funding military budgets, and C&C style superweapons all in one!

Mike Ryzewic
14th April, 2011 @ 06:58 am PDT

I expect we'll have actual, clean fusion very soon, and pretty soon all of this will seem quaint and in the realm of old hippies soon.

Facebook User
14th April, 2011 @ 07:04 am PDT

@slowburn

There are forces defending the old, corrupt, and insane; always have been, this time unfortunately they can push us to planetary extinction. But I believe we will make it into solar/wind and one day we will live in a world without nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons. And in this sane world, people who don't appear to know right from wrong will be the ones requested to join the new peace corps. An important battalion will be one dealing with the hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic nuclear waste littering the planet, decommisioning the plants and bombs, or perhaps if they're have some smarts they can work on technologies to defang plutonium etc or better yet heal a person from cancer/leukemia/immune disorders etc. In your case why wait, just head out to Fukushima or Chernobyl or perhaps the ones not publicized, and make yerself useful dude!

IP
14th April, 2011 @ 08:49 am PDT

There is no single renewable energy technology that will save us. We need them all as they are mutually complementary. The wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. Simply celebrate the fact that Google is willing to commit the funds to assist the development of renewable energy, be it solar thermal CSP, Solar thermal trough, solar PV, Wind or any other form of renewables.

What we are seeing today is just a drop in the ocean, compared to where we need to be 10, 20, 30 years down the track. We can't just relay on one technology. All these key renewable energy technologies will need to be further evolved, to play their vital part in that clean energy future.

HeyIts007
14th April, 2011 @ 09:28 am PDT

Talking about fusion, in Italy just last month Rossi/Focardi fired up a 50cc (3.2 cubic inch) Nickel Hydrogen => Copper reactor that generated 4690W output with 330W input for 6 hours continuous, and will supposedly run for months with 50g of nickel dust and 2g of hydrogen. Note that's light hydrogen, not deuterium. They're planning to put together a 1MW station this year and who knows how rich those cats are going to wind up. It isn't proven nor completely understood yet, but at least the reaction was repeatable this time. No mention on "mainstream" sites like gizmag yet - we shall see. Personally I saw the photos & I think the apparatus could easily be rigged, but evidently some visiting Swedish Physicists conducted the experiment themselves and were convinced.

Grunchy
14th April, 2011 @ 11:36 pm PDT

this is a very fancy solar cooker. Probably would not be of much use in Wis, but it sure would work almost anywhere south of the mason/dixie line.

Jonathan Doppsmith
15th April, 2011 @ 08:21 pm PDT

Im all for solar, but this is stupid. The only way solar will work is if we mandate every roof top designates a certain percentage of square feet to solar panels creating a network of solar energy. This power plant in the article is way to expensive to build and maintain for the power it produces. We are already taking up land with homes and if everyone had their own solar panels, it would be up to them to keep them maintained, kinda spreading the pain, cost and responsibility around.

Wind energy is even a bigger joke. The maintenance is way to expensive for the power it produces.

Tony DeSylva
5th May, 2011 @ 04:34 pm PDT

In my humble opinion just about anything is better than nuclear, or fossil fuel energy. I am originally from Missouri and I recently heard of plans to build a nuclear reactor outside of New Madrid, MO, which is directly over one of the most dangerous fault lines in the world. I can't imagine why they would consider doing that, other than there is a large coal powered facility nearby. Who knows...

As far as the desert ecosystems go, I'm no expert but I bet the little desert creatures wouldn't mind a little shade, as long as we don't get carried away with it, as we often do I suppose...

rwalker
5th May, 2011 @ 06:25 pm PDT

$250 million for eco-techno.... waow... it can make my country better than before.... one day... hahaha

agung
2nd June, 2011 @ 10:50 pm PDT

wind turbines are for SAILBOATS !

Jay Finke
8th June, 2011 @ 08:00 am PDT

So how much water are these stations going to use? Being in the desert I imagine that water is a pretty scarce resource. There are better technologies and more innovative ideas being built in LaPaz, Arizona. This is old technology and unless they solve the water issue, it's not sustainable.

BankerBobby
21st July, 2011 @ 03:21 pm PDT

Michael: Of course "taking" energy from either of wind, water _AND_ solar will have an impact (the sun radiation would probably had heated the ground and air and give winds or whatever) but on a global scale the impact is probably quite small. And for instance the heat will be "made" somewhere else.

Hagge Aliquis
27th July, 2011 @ 10:42 pm PDT

Let's all just move to china where they hand out mercury coated lolly pops and burn coal mixed with Asbestos.

Sorry for the exaggeration, lol.

But really we need to start somwhere and individual home mandated rooftop square footage is the answer!!

(In my humble oppinion).

dont forget the dirty power we use, is but a fraction of the filthy power that countries that have no rules create.

And we may all kill ourselves out with all of our ocean trash dumping and carcinogenic habits before we burn thru the remaining coal and natural gas. :-)

Emmett Storey
8th October, 2011 @ 12:29 pm PDT

I wonder about the security of the mirror control system...the focus could be changed to attack aircraft....

There's also mirror cleaning and replacement.

I'd like to see someone build at least a small pilot test plant for orbital collection and transmission of solar power.

In orbit the sunshine is 24/7 w/o clouds and much more intense than on the surface. Orbital plants could be constructed in orbit, greatly reducing the environmental degradation caused by their production.

Orbital power would eliminate a great many concerns of surface based generation, has been 'lab proven' for decades but resisted by conventional power generation utilities.

Charles Barnard
19th April, 2013 @ 09:38 am PDT
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