The Ivanpah Solar Electricity-Generating System ­located in California’s Mojave Desert became formally operational on Feb. 13, 2014. At full capacity, the plant’s three 459-foot-high towers produce a total of 392 megawatts, i.e., enough clean electricity to power approximately 140,000 California homes.


Ivanpah accounts for nearly 30 percent of all solar-thermal energy currently operational in the United States. It uses 173,500 computer-controlled mirrors that follow the sun’s trajectory, reflecting its rays to receiver-steam-generating units at the top of the towers. 


A joint effort of NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System cost $2.2 billion. The project received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. 


The construction costs for this project fall between the construction costs for coal and nuclear power plants, according to estimates by Synapse Energy Economics, but it does not account for the much lower capacity factor of solar power. Another potential drawback depending on perspective: the three power tower receiver units become extremely hot and glow brightly high above the ground, actually 150 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. These glowing receiver units are a new attraction that can be seen from many miles away, including Interstate 15.


“Cleantech innovations, such as Ivanpah, are critical to establishing America’s leadership in large-scale, clean-energy technology that will keep our economy globally competitive over the next several decades,” said Tom Doyle, president, NRG Solar. “We see Ivanpah changing the energy landscape by proving that utility-scale solar is not only possible, but incredibly beneficial to both the economy and in how we produce and consume energy.”