BrightSource’s Ivanpah Plant Featured in CSP Today for Producing “Sustainable and Responsible” Clean Energy
We are very pleased that BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar power plant was recently featured in CSP Today for its efforts to produce clean energy in an environmentally-responsible manner. Reporter John Johnson writes that BrightSource’s Ivanpah project has “set a benchmark for the power generation industry in terms of sustainability and corporate social responsibility.”
The article details some of the steps that BrightSource has taken to ensure that the desert ecosystem is respected, including using technology that significantly reduces the amount of water used in the plant’s operation and employing over 100 biologists to help protect wildlife and plant species at Ivanpah.
In Focus: Responsible companies behind sustainable energy
CSP Today, By John R. Johnson
November 19, 2010
Producing clean energy is arguably responsible corporate behaviour in itself. But next generation power producers are going the extra mile to ensure that every step of the process is both sustainable and responsible. In the first of its monthly In Focus series, CSP Today defines how BrightSource Energy ticks all the boxes on environmental performance.
While BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System won’t begin producing clean energy from the sun for another two years, the project represents a major step toward the kind of zero air emission power generation that the U.S. seeks to deploy in the years ahead.
This month, BrightSource Energy broke ground on Ivanpah, which is being built in California’s Mojave Desert. Eventually, the 3,500 acre generation facility will produce 370 MW of power, enough to power 140,000 homes. When complete, it will nearly double the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the U.S. The first phase of the Ivanpah project is expected to be complete and online by the end of 2012.
Setting the benchmark
Aside from the future environmental benefit of the project, BrightSource aims to set a benchmark for the power generation industry in terms of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. As part of its mission to build a low-impact solar power plant, the company is taking special measures when it comes to plant design, water use and land impact, even employing 100 biologists to study tortoise habitats.
“From its inception in 2006, BrightSource has incorporated environmental considerations into every aspect of the Ivanpah project,” says Keely Wachs, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at BrightSource. “In addition to selecting sites not identified as areas of critical environmental concern, our thoughtful approach is setting the bar for the industry.”
The bid to build an environmentally friendly power plant started with the site selection process, when BrightSource sought a location that was near other developed land and had existing transmission services. In addition, the company needed a site that contained minimal wildlife, habitat and rare plant life. The site chosen is bisected by a transmission corridor containing three power lines, including two high-voltage network lines. Another transmission corridor runs adjacent to the site to the north, containing three high-voltage network lines and a natural gas transmission pipeline.
Respect for biodiversity
BrightSource pulled out all the stops when it came to protecting the delicate desert environment. Teams of biologists scoured the site for desert tortoise and rare plants. Tortoises were tested for diseases, weighed and measured, then placed into an individual 20 meter by 20 meter nursery. Within the nursery, an exact replica of the tortoise’s original borough is being built, and each borough entrance will face the exact same direction as the original borough. In the spring, these tortoises will be moved to their new homes, which are within a mile of the site.
BrightSource will also pay careful attention to the physical terrain at Ivanpah. The technology’s low-impact design will help to preserve as much existing vegetation and natural land contours as possible, while minimizing changes to stormwater flows, primarily through minimal grading of the land. Its LPT 550 technology does not require that land be graded flat for construction, and BrightSource can develop on sites that are up to a 5% grade. The heliostats (mirrors that move to track the sun) are mounted on poles inserted directly into the ground, eliminating the need for grading or concrete pads.
“Through this method, we’re able to retain the integrity of existing vegetation, existing land contours and natural drainage features throughout most of the site,” says Wachs, noting that clearing and grading of the land will be restricted to foundations, drainage facilities, and all-weather roads.
The technology that will be employed at Ivanpah also represents significant environmental advantages. To conserve precious desert water, the solar generating station will rely on air cooling to convert high-temperature steam back to water. Known as dry-cooling, the closed-loop recycling system reduces Ivanpah’s total water usage by 90 percent – less than 100 acre feet of water, or about 300 homes worth of water. By comparison, some solar thermal power plant designs use wet cooling and consume 1,600 acre feet of water annually, nearly 25 times the amount of water per megawatt hour that will be consumed at Ivanpah.
The LPT 550 energy system relies on thousands of small mirrors that track the sun in two dimensions to reflect sunlight onto a boiler atop a tower. When the concentrated sunlight strikes the boiler’s pipes, it heats the water inside to more than 1000° F, creating superheated steam. The efficiency gains created from the system allow BrightSource to produce the highest temperature steam from solar in the world.
In addition to its efficiency benefits, BrightSource will utilize the power tower model because of its environmental advantages, including its ability to use dry-cooling and to avoid sensitive habitats. By directly heating water and not using synthetic oil as a transfer fluid like some systems, the risk of spilling hazardous materials into the environment is greatly diminished.
“From the company’s inception we recognized the essential nature of these environmental advantages when building low-impact solar power plants,” says Wachs. “We’ve designed the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in a way that sets a high standard when it comes to environmental considerations.”