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Say Hello to the World's Largest Solar Energy Plant

The world's largest solar plant will  power over a hundred thousand homes, while preventing 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year from entering earth's atmosphere.


After years in the development, an enormous solar power plant in the Mojave Desert went online on February 13, with 377 megawatts of net generating capacity to power 140,000 homes in California with 100 percent renewable energy.


The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, now the largest solar power plant in the world, is indeed massive. It relies upon 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors, each seven feet high and ten feet wide, that focus sunlight to the top of three 459-foot towers. Each tower contains water that is heated to steam to power turbines. The entire construction takes up an astounding 5 square miles.


NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy and Google co-own Ivanpah. The companies proudly tout that the new plant avoids producing 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to removing 72,000 vehicles off the road.


Rick Needham, Google’s director of energy and sustainability said, "At Google we invest in innovative renewable energy projects that have the potential to transform the energy landscape and help provide more clean power to businesses and homes around the world." He added, "Ivanpah is a shining example of such a project and we're delighted to be a part of it."


This new clean energy source does come with some drawbacks, and regulators are continuing to look at the plant’s environmental impact. Critics have pointed out that birds that fly over the mirrors have been scorched, and local protected tortoises had to be relocated during the plant’s construction.  


Another criticism levied at the project is that Ivanpah does not include energy storage- unlike Abengoa's Solana Generating Station in Arizona and SolarReserve's Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Nevada, which store solar radiation in molten salts to produce energy after the sun goes down.


Solar thermal plants are growing in use worldwide, with the United States producing the most energy from this source, and Spain and China in second and third place, respectively. 


Watch as Top Gear's James May visits a solar thermal plant in Spain, sweats a lot, and explains how it works:




See how the world's largest utility-scale solar thermal project became a reality:



What You Can Do:

Learn about the Pros and Cons of Concentrated Solar Power


Take a virtual tour of the Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power plant.