Mirror, mirror in the desert….
Misaligned mirrors are being blamed for a fire that broke out yesterday at the world’s largest solar power plant, leaving the high-tech facility crippled for the time being. It sounds like the plant’s workers suffered through a real hellscape, too.
A small fire was reported yesterday morning at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California, forcing a temporary shutdown of the facility. It’s now running at a third of its capacity (a second tower is down due to scheduled maintenance), and it’s not immediately clear when the damaged tower will restart. It’s also unclear how the incident will impact California’s electricity supply.
Putting out the blaze was not easy task, either. Firefighters were forced to climb 300 feet up a boiler tower to get to the scene. Officials said the fire was located about two-thirds up the tower. Workers at the plant actually managed to subdue the flames by the time firefighters reached the spot, and it was officially extinguished about 20 minutes after it started.
Located on 4,000 acres of public land in the Mojave Desert, the sprawling concentrated solar thermal plant is equipped with 173,500 heliostats—each with two mirrors—that focus sunlight on boilers located on top of three 459-foot towers. The tremendous heat created by the concentrated solar power produces steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. The plant, the largest of its kind in the world, features a gross capacity of 392 megawatts, enough to power 140,000 homes. Each of the computer-controlled solar-reflecting mirrors is about the size of a garage door. […]
It’s yet another setback for the Ivanpah facility. For the past few months, the plant has been unable to meet the output levels stipulated in its power purchase agreement, and it was given an extension until July 31, 2016 to improve performance. This fire obviously isn’t going to help.