Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ivanpah is unable to meet its intended electricity generation

Ivanpah is unable to meet its intended electricity generation of 940,000 megawatt-hours per year, despite its designation as the largest concentrated solar plant in the world.  Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) received only 45 percent of the electricity it expected from Ivanpah in 2014 and 68 percent in 2015.

Output is so low, in fact, that it fails to meet Ivanpah's power purchase agreement, which requires a set amount of electricity production for a certain price.

Ivanpah's managers found that the facility needs to produce much more steam than initially thought to run efficiently, which requires substantially more natural gas than originally planned to supplement the concentrated solar each morning.  Weather predictions underestimated the amount of cloud cover the area receives, which prevents the facility from consistently producing high levels of electricity.

Compounding this reality, the price of solar photovoltaic panels has dropped precipitously, making concentrated solar more costly and less efficient in comparison to new solar technologies.  Ivanpah is a concentrated solar power (CSP) facility, using mirrors to concentrate sunlight and power a steam turbine to create electricity.  Solar photovoltaic panels, in contrast, convert sunlight into electricity directly.  Although CSP was once thought to be the future of solar power, technology improvements have made photovoltaics cheaper and more efficient.

Despite these realities, PG&E has given Ivanpah an extra six months to meet the required electricity production.  If Ivanpah can't produce enough power by July 31, the $2.2-billion facility will shut down.

The reasons why are simple.  Ivanpah has been selling electricity for, on average, anywhere from $135 to $200 per megawatt-hour of electricity.  Existing coal-fired power plants produce electricity for $88 per megawatt-hour, after accounting for social and environmental costs, and even solar photovoltaic was being sold for $57 per megawatt-hour in 2015.  Despite the CPUC continuing to force PG&E to pay an expensive premium for electricity, Ivanpah simply cannot deliver.

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You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Harlan Ellison