Ivanpah’s eastern tower online. Credit: Craig Dietrich

Spanning an area of 14 square kilometers (4,000 acres) and with a capacity of 392 megawatts, the “Ivanpah” is the world’s largest solar thermal plant, according to the company BrightSource Energy, which built the plant in the Mojave Desert in California, United States.

The plant isn’t finished yet but has been online since October 2013 and currently supplies electricity to the grid in California.

With a total estimated cost of 2,2 billion dollars, the Ivanpah was built with several big backers, including MRG Energy, Google, and also a $1.375 billion loan guarantee by the United States Department of Energy.

The solar thermal power plant operates by sunbeams that are reflected from mirrors to onto tower where the sun heat water to generate steam that drives turbines. The power plant will consist of a total of three 135 meters (443 feet) towers and when completed, it will use 173,000 mirrors to capture and redirect the sunlight .

Since the beginning of the construction in 2010, the price of solar cells has dropped dramatically , making solar thermal power less competitive. But both being carbon-free and renewable sources of energy they sure both attractive alternatives to fossil fuels. Solar thermal power is significantly simpler and does not require as many precious materials as solar cells do at the present. Solar thermal power and Concentrated solar power has been around for some time, at a larger scale since the 1980s, but really took off during the 2000s.

According to a study by Greenpeace International, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association, and the International Energy Agency’s SolarPACES group, concentrated solar power could account for up to 25% of the world’s energy needs by 2050. The increase in investment would be from 2 billion euros worldwide to 92.5 billion euros in that time period.cl

Brightsource Energy