At Ivanpah Solar Power Plant, Energy Production Falling Well Short of Expectations
27 november 2014 15:04
Whether scorched birds are a major issue at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California is a matter of dispute. But the "power tower" solar plant and its owners – NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy – might have an even more fundamental problem on their hands: generating adequate electricity.
The Mojave Desert plant, built with the aid of a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee, kicked off commercial operation at the tail end of December 2013, and for the eight-month period from January through August, its three units generated 254,263 megawatt-hours of electricity, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. That's roughly one-quarter of the annual 1 million-plus megawatt-hours that had been anticipated.
Output did pick up in the typically sunny months of May, June, July and August, as you might expect, with 189,156 MWh generated in the four-month period. But even that higher production rate would translate to annual electricity output of less than 600,000 MWh, at least 40 percent below target.
Another sign of the plant's early operating woes: In March, the owners sought permission [PDF] to use 60 percent more natural gas in auxiliary boilers than was allowed under the plant's certification, a request that was approved in August.
Some might point to Ivanpah's struggles as another potential black eye for the U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee program, but losses in the DOE portfolio have been small, well under what was budgeted for the program by Congress. Still, the plant's slow start can't be good news for its owners, particularly BrightSource, the company whose technology is on display at Ivanpah and which has struggled to advance other planned power tower projects in California.
Plant operator NRG declined to answer emailed questions about Ivanpah's performance; BrightSource was more responsive.
The company said that "weather at Ivanpah since February has generally been worse than expected, resulting in reduced output." July, when generation dipped to 35,967 MWh from 64,275 MWh in June – the plant's best month so far – was especially lacking in sunshine, BrightSource said, at least relative to the expectations the company developed over several years of meteorological study of the area.

The article can be read here.


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