A new solar plant in Southern Nevada can generate energy both during the day and at night, overcoming what has traditionally been one of the biggest drawbacks to solar power. The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant located about 225 miles northwest of Las Vegas is capable of generating 110 megawatts of power – that’s enough for 75,000 homes.
While it’s not running at full capacity quite yet, SolarReserve says the facility is planned to ramp up to its full annual output over the course of 2016. The solar plant uses more than 10,000 mirrored heliostats spread across 1,600 acres to focus sunlight on a 640-foot tall central tower filled with molten salt. That salt is heated by the sunlight to nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit; this stored heat is then used to convert water to steam and drive electricity-producing generators.
This system allows the plant to deliver power on demand, not just when the sun is shining. The salt can retain heat for months at a time, so the occasional cloudy day shouldn’t interrupt the availability of electricity. Best of all? There are zero emissions, the water use is minimal, and of course, there’s no hazardous waste created as a byproduct of the process.
So far, SolarReserve CEO says the molten salt receiver is working even better than initially expected. If this technology continues to perform well, it could be the answer to more stable solar power, perhaps finally overcoming the advantages of coal or gas. (One more added bonus? SolarReserve claims that unlike other similar arrays, their plant has managed to avoid frying birds.)
Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant was constructed over a period of about four years, at a cost of almost $1 billion. About $737 million of that money came from federal loan guarantees. While that may sound like a hefty price tag, the project brought more than 1,000 people to the nearby town of Tonopah and provided a boost to local businesses during construction. It’s also going to serve as the second-largest individual source of tax revenue for Nye County, contributing nearly $3 million in property taxes every year.