The facility, which in reality consists of three CSP plants arranged side by side, is the largest of its kind in the world. It incorporates 173,500 heliostats, each of which is equipped with two parabolic mirrors. These reflect the light onto three solar power towers. The plant was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel and cost $2.2 billion to develop. NRG Energy is responsible for its actual operation.
At 377 MW, the plant was expected to generate enough solar power to supply 140,000 homes, reducing carbon emissions by more than 400,000 tons per year.
However, results have been somewhat disappointing in that, according to data provided by the US Energy Information Administration in October 2014, the plant has only generated a quarter of the electricity it was expected to generate. Part of the problem was down to various equipment challenges which in turn has impacted on plant availability. The issue has been exacerbated by an increased requirement for natural gas (as backup power to keep the turbine running on cloudy days) than was originally expected. Nevertheless, the major problem was that 2014 cloudier than average. Furthermore, many such plants fail to meet expectations when they first start operating, according to Robert Boehm, a mechanical engineering professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and director of the school’s Center for Energy Research. If so, the facility may yet reach its 1 million MW in 2018 target, while continuing to fool passing travellers into thinking it’s some kind of government-sponsored UFO base – CSP is still new and therefore is an amazing spectacle to those who see it.