Fire breaks out at the world’s largest solar plant

concentrated solarThe Ivanpah solar plant saw an energy generating tower shut down during May after a fire broke out as a result of misaligned mirrors.

The Nevada based solar power plant is the world’s largest and uses a series of enormous mirrors to reflect sunlight onto boilers located atop towers (sometimes referred to as power tower concentrators). These boilers create steam to power turbines which then generate energy. Each of the 173,500 sets of mirrors uses computer powered motors to track the movements of the sun. The fire was caused by mirrors which did not track the sun correctly, thus focusing sunlight onto the wrong part of the tower and burning electrical cables and metal.

Workers were able to control the fire themselves until Firefighters were called to scene, where they had to climb 300 feet up the boiler tower where the fire had broken out. The plant had to temporarily shut down, but was then able to run at a third of its usual capacity.

This isn’t the first challenge the Ivanpah solar plant has faced. There have also been recent incidents in the press regarding the safety of birds around Ivanpah after hundreds of scorched birds were found at the plant.

Wired.com listed economics as the plants biggest problem explaining that ‘When the plant was just a proposal in 2007, the cost of electricity made using Ivanpah’s concentrated solar power was roughly the same as that from photovoltaic solar panels. Since then, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels has plummeted to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (compared to 15 to 20 cents for concentrated solar power) as materials have gotten cheaper.’

In a recent news story Gizmodo highlighted that the fire is yet another setback for the plant. Explaining that ‘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.’

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