Ivanpah – Not the Solar You Know

In the last week you may have noticed that news in the green energy world has centered around the opening of Ivanpah, a 4,000 acre solar power plant in California. Ivanpah is expected to generated about 392 Megawatts of power. The estimate is that this can power some 140,000 homes, according to Business Insider.

What most people don’t know about it is that this is not the same type of solar most people think of when they talk about solar energy. Typically, people think of a technology known as photovoltaic (PV) solar. This is where a solar PV cell transfers the suns light into energy by way of what is known as “the photoelectric effect”. The energy is available from the cell itself, from the moment the sun hits it.

Ivanpah uses a different type of solar energy. In this case, the suns energy is reflected off of giant mirrors and aimed towards something that is intended to be heated immensely. Sound familiar? Yup, you probably did it to an ant with a magnifying glass when you were a kid. Or you may have heard rumors of how the Great Greek General Archimedes did it again Roman when they tried to sack Syracuse in the 3rd Century.

Anyhow, the mirrors at Ivanpah are aimed at towers which contain liquid. When the sun heats the liquid it creates steam that is trying to escape. As the steam escapes, it turns the turbines which provide us with electrical energy to be stored and distributed.

As you can see, Ivanpah works very much like other, regular power plants. The difference is in the method that the heat is generated. As opposed to burning coal or oil or natural gas, Ivanpah uses the sun.

That leads to a very interesting question. Doesn’t that seem just a little complicated? At least if we could simply use PV cells without the mirrors and towers and turbines and such? There are arguments to both sides. But, wouldn’t it be nice if that was the new debate? Rather than should we kill the earth or should we not? We think so, keep reading to see some of the points on each side of the coin.

Is Ivanpah Obsolete?
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